Do you hear that? What? That! It’s your business trying to tell you something. It’s your business telling you what’s going on with your staff, your process and procedures, your customers, your competitors, and your suppliers. Listen closely as some of the sounds may be faint, yet meaningful. Some sounds may be the silent cries for help while others may be the whispers of a job well done — be careful not to confuse the two.
The sound of a well-tuned car can tell a skilled mechanic exactly what’s going on under the hood. Similarly, listening carefully to your people can tell you a lot about what’s going on in the business. More importantly, listen for how they are doing their work and whether they are working on the right things. Is their time spent creating value added solutions for your customers or fighting internal man-made fires.
What do those internal man-made fires sound like? They can sound like the same issues or problems being frequently bantered about. The impact of addressing and fixing these issues can greatly influence the business in many ways. First it shows that you are both hearing and listening to what’s really going on. Secondly, it demonstrates what you will tolerate and what you will let go. And lastly, it’s one step closer to setting the stage for a positive work environment.
Listen for the wins! What happened, how did you delight a client or solve a problem. Celebrate the wins, learn from them and most importantly, try to repeat them. Listen for the trends that are going on in your business.
The process and procedures you rely on to conduct your business can be compared to a transmission in a car. Quite simply, when it’s working well you barely notice it’s there. Conversely, when the gears are grinding, it’s not a good thing, and probably will not end well. Listen for the clues — good and bad. Are mistakes happening, are deadlines being missed, or are quality expectations not being met? While these can often be brushed off as isolated instances, they may be symptoms of a transmission in need of repair.
Customers can create a wonderful feedback loop to your business — if you let them. Feedback can come through the use of regularly scheduled business reviews, or simple surveys. Give your customers an opportunity to share their thoughts about your performance and whether or not they might recommend you to others. Take the positive feedback you receive and use it for testimonials and case studies or in social media. Sometimes though, you may not like what you hear, but negative feedback can be most valuable if you act on it.
While I do not recommend that you dwell on your competition, you should at least be aware of their presence and their strengths and weaknesses. How are they doing? Have they been hiring, have they been winning any awards, or sharing press releases on new capabilities and technology?
You may first notice changes with competitors if you begin winning business from customers you thought were in your competitors camp. Conversely, you may start losing business to those you did not consider formidable competitors in the past. Listen for the clues, know where your competitive advantage is, and act accordingly.
Suppliers have a difficult task. They want to help you — provide you with the best service, products, and pricing available while doing virtually the same thing down the street at your competitor. The best ones will make you feel like you are the only game in town, and that’s how it should be. Trust is a must with these folks as they get to see the inner workings of your business. Treat them with respect, and they will do likewise.
Listening to your business can be difficult when you’re knee-deep in alligators. When your goal at the end of a 12-hour day is hoping you didn’t overlook anything, it can be a daunting task to listen for the subtle clues within your business. Don’t try to do it alone, make listening a prerequisite skill for all leadership roles. Collectively, your team should be able to effectively listen and act accordingly to what they hear and propel your business forward.
Mike Philie can help validate what’s working and what may need to change in your business. Changing the trajectory of a business is difficult to do while simultaneously operating the core competencies. Mike provides strategy and insight to owners and CEOs in the Graphic Communications Industry by providing direct and realistic advice, not being afraid to voice the unpopular opinion and helping leaders navigate change through a common sense and practical approach. Learn more at www.philiegroup.com, LinkedIn or email at email@example.com.