Every company makes mistakes. That’s one thing all businesses have in common.
That said, each mistake is an opportunity – especially if the error affects a customer.
Some companies blame anyone or anything but themselves. They may or may not correct it. They may or may not apologize. Some act like they’re doing you a favor if you ask them to correct their own goof-up.
A culture of blame exists in these firms. Their mantra is “It’s not my fault.”
Other companies immediately correct mistakes – especially for customers. They apologize. They might even offer the customer something extra to show they’re serious.
A culture of accountability exists in these firms. Their mantra is “Fix the problem to the complete satisfaction of the customer.”
Clearly, the second type of company is where you want to be. But, consider kicking it up a notch to turn costly mistakes into profitable occurrences.
Let’s say Bob’s Computer Service gets a call from their customer Big Company, Inc., telling them that Bob’s driver delivered their repaired monitor but they didn’t get their power cord back.
Bob’s has a culture of accountability, so the rep apologizes, arranges to have it delivered right away and offers a discount to make up for the aggravation. So far, so good. Even though the rep did everything right, most of Bob’s competitors would do the same, so it was good, but not extraordinary.
What if Bob’s takes the time to find and fix the root cause of the error? Now they begin to separate themselves from their competitors who, as soon as the customer’s problem is resolved, get back to their hectic routine. (Hey, if you’re busy putting out fires all day, every day, it’s tough to find time to install a sprinkler system.) This is the first way to profit – by driving repeat mistakes out of your business and enjoying the resultant productivity improvements.
And here’s one more step: bring the customer back into the loop. What if someone from Bob’s contacted Big Company, Inc. and it went something like this:
“Thank you for bringing your missing power cord to our attention. As a result of this situation, we reworked our procedures. Each product that arrives for service now gets a tag on which all accessories received are documented. Nobody – including you – should ever fail to get all your accessories back with repaired equipment.”
Almost nobody does this sort of thing. This level of dedication to quality, customer service and follow-through puts Bob’s Computer Service in rare company and helps create strong, life-long customer relationships. And, we all know the value of customers who are also raving fans.
We all make mistakes. You may as well profit from yours.
Leadership. What the heck is leadership anyway? And why should a small business owner care?
Some folks use the word “leadership” as a synonym for influence. Let’s expand that definition to include a couple of other important activities:
This is not an all-encompassing definition of leadership. Volumes have been written on the subject. In a small business setting, though, it’s good to have a simple, common-sense approach to things so let’s focus on these three attributes.
There are many kinds of influence. A screaming child in a restaurant is influencing the embarrassed parents.
You can use various types of influence over your staff. But we’re not talking about domination. Of course your position of authority is real so you can’t (and wouldn’t want to) turn that off. But how about simply asking your team – individually and collectively – to deliver the desired behavior?
Years ago, I had two employees who became hostile toward each other after a previously harmonious working relationship. It was jarring for their team members, because they both were considered friendly and easy-going. Quickly it became apparent that this wasn’t going away.
Sitting down with both of them, I pointed out that they likely spend more time at work than with their own families, and a troubled relationship affected everyone around them. They got it, and all returned to normal soon after that.
But it’s not always that easy. A similar situation later erupted with two other employees, and it required more firm and direct language: “You don’t have to like each other but you must work together in a professional and congenial way. Otherwise one or both of you will have to leave.”
You’ll develop your own style over time, but don’t shy away from issues in your business – deal with them directly and quickly.
Setting the Example
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Nothing will spoil your good leadership efforts faster than “do as I say and not as I do.” This doesn’t mean you have to become “one of the guys” but know this: Your people watch you like a hawk. Model the behaviors you ask of your team.
As the business owner, you’re the main resource provider. Here’s a good way to find out what obstacles are in your team’s way: Ask ‘em.
How about having your employees create a “Stop Doing” list, or a “Hassles” log? What resources do they need? What procedures are outdated?
Be a leader
So, a simple formula for small business leadership includes using your influence to promptly deal with problems, setting the example and removing obstacles. Let me know if you’ve got more to add to the formula.
The best numbers to put on your dashboard are the specific numbers that define success for your company. Look at the things going on in your market and industry. What are your company’s trends for the last few years? What are your customers and employees saying? These answers will help determine your dashboard metrics.
Keep the amount of information to a handful of critical numbers so your attention isn’t diluted. Just because you CAN measure something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Less is more.
Don’t focus only on financial measures. Operational numbers (web hits, turnaround time, customer satisfaction, etc.) can be especially helpful in analyzing progress toward your most important goals.
Finally, once you have a dashboard, use it. It’s not decor – it’s an accountability tool. Put a name next to each number – the person who “owns” that result. Go over the numbers regularly with your team and strive to achieve each target.
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