Hej! from Copenhagen (København), capital city of Denmark, home of Hans Christian Andersen and focus of the music and lyrics of Frank Loesser from his 1952 song, “Wonderful Copenhagen”.
Geographically, we’re a long way from Perth and Australia. However, in the global community some perspectives don’t vary. Typically, attitudes override aptitudes in identifying and realising opportunities.
Denmark is a land of opportunity, much of which is being accomplished as a direct consequence of positive attitudes. Australia, too, remains a land of opportunities. Regrettably, many are not being capitalised upon because of a widespread prevailing sense of apprehension.
I am so encouraged by repeated exposure to countless people with positive attitudes. It is a blessing that those who are negative simply don’t make contact.
Increasingly, business achievers are becoming selective in their media habits, careful to avoid over-exposure of downbeat public statements, many of which are confusing and contradictory.
I am expectant of what awaits over the next 10 days, with commitments in and visits to Stockholm, Sweden and London.
Culture, values, beliefs and vision remain key ingredients in business, and for business success. Each has been in abundance in this Nordic region.
It is difficult to contain the inspiration that has been generated and the enthusiasm felt, and the desire to return to Australia and share the insights, lessons and success strategies.
When you are asked: “How’s business?”
Answer with candour: “It’s as good as I want it to be.”
CULTURED CUSTOMER SERVICE
Happy team members do not ensure great customer service.
However, happiness throughout the ranks is an essential prerequisite.
Service excellence is more a way of thinking than it is a way of doing. The latter reflects the processes, which predominate much of the prevailing training, recruitment and induction policies.
Service providers who are judged by customers to be disconnected, distracted and uncommitted often reflect disenchantment with a corporate culture, management practices and leadership inadequacy. Such filters and impediments make it difficult for frontline people to focus, to stretch- and to achieve.
As a result morale falls, followed closely by customer service standards and in turn customer satisfaction and loyalty.
It is an all-too-common treadmill, which is not really difficult to get off. The key remedial components are sensitive leadership, encouragement and support.
I GOT SACKED
Allow me to share with you a recent experience.
We received an email from the Human Resources Manager of a real estate agency group enquiring about my availability to speak at a forthcoming conference for around 45 delegates.
In the resultant telephone conversation it was revealed one of the Directors had heard me speak previously at a real estate event on customer service and was aware of our activities in the sector over an extended period. He was familiar with the significantly improved performance results in terms of sales, customer satisfaction and client referrals.
The date and booking were confirmed.
I requested an initial personal briefing session with the Directors and the contact details of six staff members, to conduct of a series of confidential background interviews, which would contribute to and determine the content and focus.
I was welcomed to the head office and shown to the office of the Managing Director, who was lounging back in his leather chair with his feet elevated. Not a good look.
He explained he wanted emphasis on the “WOW” factor, and the need to “exceed customers’ expectations”. His enthusiasm for the concepts was conspicuous with him pumping the air.
Given the upmarket target audience and the informed, discerning nature of individuals and couples in the primary geographic localities. I counselled on the preference for identifying, analysing, fulfilling and managing expectations. References were made to case studies of high-profile successful businesses with which we had consulted and addressed.
The case studies were warmly accepted. Not so the advice.
The briefing meeting concluded and next day the series of confidential background interviews commenced.
An initial comment by the first interviewee, a high-performance sales representative was telling: “You’re not another of those speakers promoting the WOW factor and the need to exceed customer expectations, are you?”. He went on to declare that the team members were good at their jobs and provided consistent, excellent service standards.
A differing perspective was gained from the next interview with a similarly high achieving female representative. Her concern was the presence of a leadership group in the agency. The criteria for selection to the cabal were unknown.
I mentally noted a possible disenchanted team member.
She went on to explain that she was part of the leadership group and “wanted out”.
The property management team provided a further invaluable insight. Staff turnover during the previous 30 months had been 23, among a staff total of 10.
I dutifully provided the Human Resources Manager, one Director and a Manager the feedback, while respecting the anonymity of the individuals who had provided the information.
I was sacked, advised that they had made the wrong decision in appointing me to speak at the forthcoming event.
As I explained to the Director, these things do happen, but not often.
The last time that it had happened to me was in similar circumstances involving Angus & Robertson, the now defunct national book retailers.
I provided that information to the Director, together with the gratuitous advice about contemplating appointment of a corporate culture consultant.
The outcome is unknown. So too is the future for the business.
Let it be a lesson to us all.
Entrepreneurism is a word and concept which is widely misunderstood and inappropriately used.
It extends well beyond risk-taking and opportunistic salesmanship. Both are partial, shallow interpretations of a fundamental ingredient for the immediate and intermediate-term growth for nations, economies, sectors and entities. Risks are typically balanced and subjected to critical risks/benefit analysis. Salesmanship, whilst enthusiastic and emotionally-charged, is appropriately measured. Performance is everything. True entrepreneurism creates new wealth and generates employment to the benefit of many.
There are so many faces to entrepreneurism, including:
Creative adaptations abound, including “solotrepreneurism”. That is, single operators.
For established nations, economies and entities, it is arguable that the most relevant face of the concept is:
Remodelling the way things are done is often imperative. Resistance to such changes is expected, and widespread momentum and critical- mass more slowly, and are often compromised.
Adherents to philosophies like 6 Sigma and World Best Practice are in themselves, by their very nature, disruptive to the disruptive intent: For some people maintaining the status quo can be an end in itself.
In recent times I have been retained to facilitate a number of interactive, creative development workshops on Disruptive Entrepreneurism. Apprehension and a sense of “push-back” among participants are soon overcome.
Enthusiasm for the concept, the advantages, benefits and competitive edge is soon infectious.
Same ol’, same ol’ seems so passé. Disruptive is the new way. It’s winning business, inspiring people and is establishing the foundations for change, creativity, innovation and sustainable development.
If we can assist in your pursuit of embracing Disruptive Entrepreneurism do make contact.
BUILDING A BETTER BUSINESS MODEL – NOT A MOUSE TRAP
Oh my, how things have changed, and continue to change!
Since August 1962, when J.C.R. Licklider of MIT, (the Massachustus Institute of Technology) first wrote a series of memos about his “Galactic Network” (which would evolve in the internet), the rate of change in technology, communications and business has accelerated.
The correspondence and date-line have proven to be significant benchmarks. Changes have been effected in all manner of ways in which we live, interact and do business.
OUT-DATED BUSINESS MODELS
Sadly, many business leaders have not updated and made relevant the business models of their operations. The consequences are palpable.
Bankruptcies and failures are increasing in volume and value across a broad cross–section of sectors, professions and regions. Look no further than retail pharmacies, newsagencies, fashion wholesalers and outlets, mining industry contractors, business consultancies and coaches and the taxi industry. Mining companies have not been immune to the trend.
Being out-of-step and out-of-date are the initial steps of being out-of-business.
THE EVOLUTION OF RECENT CHANGE
The August, 2008 onset of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) heralded the start of an intriguing 3-phase global change-process for commerce and government.
Embarrassingly, the then Australian Labor Federal Government, and its arguably first-ever financially illiterate Federal Treasurer, declared that the nation had avoided the fallout of the crisis.
They were clearly wrong. The “cash-splash” handouts from the Treasury simply delayed the inevitable.
The journey has been interesting. The lessons learnt invaluable. The steps have been progressive … as detailed below:
PHASE 1 – EFFICIENCY
Cash-flows and confidence throughout the world were quickly impacted upon with the collapse of Lehmann Brothers, in the United States of America.
Profit margins were soon under pressure. Cost ratios increased as a percentage of turnover.
Focus was promptly given to the call for “cost cutting”. Staff numbers were reduced. So too were inventories.
The consequences quickly registered along the extended supply- chains.
Within entities the ranks and tiers of management were aggressively thinned.
“Lean and mean” became another common catch-call and in some instances a badge of honour.
The measures of appropriate cost-containment were subjective, and often difficult to quantify. In many instances the “knives and axes” were applied too “liberally”. Cases of corporate- anorexia became conspicuous. In essence, the corporate body was feeding on itself and was deteriorating, often with terminal consequences.
An example: Only now are some business owners and managers negotiating new and lower rental structures for retail, wholesale and manufacturing premises.
One should be in business to make money, not to save money! Stay focused on the appropriate, positive and longer-term outcomes.
PHASE 2 – EFFECTIVENESS
Following countless rounds of cost-cutting and crisis meetings for team members, emphasis was then given to improving effectiveness.
Many business leaders were sufficiently discerning to identify that their businesses had aged, become calcified and were inflexible.
Restructuring was suddenly in vogue. Silos were dismantled. Organisation charts redesigned, made flatter and more malleable. Departments were relabelled to be “tribes”, “camps” and “clusters”.
Any unsettling of internal confidence and stability was countered with positive feedback of the new approach from external suppliers, associates, customers, clients and channels.
Previous hierarchical rigidity was broken down. Authority and responsibility were delegated and warmly embraced by team members who had long desired the capacity to exercise control, power and choice in how they did business.
In short, business was better for many, and not solely measured by financial returns.
However, competitiveness, particularly on a global measure, was still found wanting in a high percentage of circumstances.
There is always a better way. Find it.
PHASE 3 – PRODUCTIVITY
Once costs and structures had been reviewed, refined and developed attention needed to be redirected to productivity.
Volume and velocity can be, and are, both a cause and a consequence of competitive advantage. Moreover, they are rewards that can contribute to sustainable leadership, progress and development.
Fixed costs (of doing business) are rapidly reduced in relative (to turnover) terms. Variable costs do truly evolve into being marginal costs.
Profit, margins and dividends escalate into being attractive and rewarding.
Businesses that have progressed to this phase are few. For some it seems to be a step-too-far. The prospects and outcomes of increased volumes and velocity are confronting, possibility challenging.
Now is a good time to commence the journey.
Individually and collectively, simplifying processes, structures, policies, attitudes and work habits has a huge impact on personal, group and entity productivity.
Barry Urquhart, Managing Director of Marketing Focus, is a business strategist, consumer behaviour analysts, marketing consultant, author and international conference keynote speaker.
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