Beg, Borrow (but not steal) Good Ideas
“You don’t get out
much, do you?”
smart-alecky question I’m tempted to ask some small business owners when
I find out their company vision statement is “We’ve always done it this
OK, I’ll admit I’ve
never encountered that exact vision statement. But we all occasionally
come into contact with businesses who:
are using out-dated business practices.
never make any attempt to find out what
their own industry’s leaders are doing, and how they’re doing it.
never make any attempt to find out how
other industries are solving problems, and how those approaches could
be applied to their own industry.
never challenge the status quo.
The term “best
practice” is used in medicine, manufacturing and other industries. It
basically refers to the most efficient and effective approach for
achieving a desired outcome. Here’s a more plain-spoken definition:
Borrowing ideas from others.
Many “new ideas” are
nothing more than recycled, renamed and revamped versions of long-time,
tried and true approaches. There are so many good ideas out there that
it’s foolish – heck, even arrogant – to not tap into them ... no matter
who you are or what you’ve accomplished.
In a practical, small
business sense there’s no real way to know if something is truly the
“best” practice. So, for our purposes a better name might be “better
practice.” If you discover an idea that’s better than the way you’re now
doing it, grab it and go.
Here’s how this
generally plays itself out in real life:
You become aware of
an idea that someone else is using. It appeals to you - probably because
it seems like a good solution to one of your current problems. So, you
determine the best way to apply that solution to your company. If
someone sees what you’re doing, hopefully you give credit where credit
is due. But over time, you tweak and modify the idea. Eventually, it
becomes your own unique approach. And eventually someone
else likes your idea enough to implement it … and the cycle continues.
By the way, I’m not
advocating plagiarism, copyright infringement, or industrial espionage.
I’m talking about adopting improved business practices – better ways of
delivering customer service, motivating employees, increasing
production, and going to market.
And good ideas can
come from the darndest places. For instance, the approach I’ve used for
years for employee performance discussions comes from Toastmasters’
formula for speech evaluations: Start with the strong points, then move
into opportunities for improvement, and end on a positive note – thus
“sandwiching” the least pleasant part between the good news.
This stuff isn’t just
the CEO’s job, either. Make sure that everyone in your organization is
on the constant look-out for ways to improve your business.
Here’s how to build a
“Best Practices Culture” at your company:
The Owner/President sets
the example. If you’re going to ask your people to seek out and
implement good ideas, you need to be leading the charge.
Get everyone on board.
Earn buy-in by explaining the benefits of learning, improving and
changing versus the dangers of stagnation. Create excitement by using
contests and rewards for ideas contributed.
Be willing to allow your
people to spend some time and money on this effort. It may be
appropriate to visit other companies, attend conferences, buy books …
you get the idea. Consider adding an expense budget line item for
Look for best practices
everywhere – including in-house. If your company is big enough to
have several departments or locations, ideas and approaches used in one
branch might be equally useful in others.
Audit periodically to
make sure that improvements and changes have taken hold and are still
being used. It’s easy to put a new initiative in place and then
abandon it. As part of preparation for your annual strategic planning,
why not create and use a Pre-Planning Checklist, which would require you
to do a check-up on various aspects of your company? This would be a
perfect place to track of progress of important changes.
There’s a big,
ever-changing world of business out there, and terrific ideas are all
around. Get out of the office and take a fresh look You never know where
your next big idea will come from.
Bill Collier is the author of “How to
Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life” and is
the St. Louis area coach for The Great Game of Business. He helps
businesses teach their employees to think and act like owners. He can be
reached at 314-221-8558 or firstname.lastname@example.org.