Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Small Business Owners: Get Out and Walk Around to Cream the Competition

Ivory Tower Syndrome and It's Disastrous Consequences Cured by MBWA

The high back leather chair feels so cool and comfy.  The great view out my window, all my tools spread around me, and the temperature in here is perfect.  Why would I want to leave this spot.  Besides, anyone can see that I have piles and piles of paper stacked up -  Whoops!  - I mean I have 20 open tabs on my browser, multiple tasks in my automated task manager, and so many emails to return.

Before We Can Explain MBWA, We Need to Explain Ivory Tower Syndrome

The definition I would afford Ivory Tower Syndrome as it relates to business is based on my own experience and observation of others.   n.  The inertia causing those in leadership or decision making rolls to never venture from their office, cubicle, or at least the safety of their most trusted advisers.

The symptoms are easily identified:
  • Myopic thinking from never hearing a competing point of view
  • Complete ignorance of new competition or any new ideas in the market place
  • Certainty of ones POV resulting in rigidity of methods
  • Falling inspiration, passion, and results
  • Hiring and promotion of yes men


The Cure for ITS?  Management By Walking Around

For a few years, the most admired business management duo in America was Peters and Waterman, authors of In Search of Excellence.  Their book took a look at companies who were excellent to see what they had in common.  My big takeaway from their many bits of advice was the antidote for Ivory Tower Syndrome.  Once I had the big office, it was so easy to just stay there.  Who wants to get in the car and face down LA traffic if they don't absolutely have to.  Who wants to interface with lower level employees who might ask hard questions or whose name we can't quite remember.

If I haven't given the entire concept away by now, here are a few ways that MBWA worked for me or might work for you:
  • Get to know at least 50 employees at every level of the enterprise.  If you only have 10 employees, really get to know all 10.  Actually ask them how they think the job could be done better.  Ask how they think management is doing.  Find out if they understand why the business exists and what their role is in optimizing the business purpose.
  • Go out the door and drive around to places where you can see your product for sale or in use.  Actually use the product yourself or talk to those who use your product or the competition. 
  • Go to trade shows that are tangentially related to your business.  Check out the booths, the promotional methods, the displays, and anything else that might help you create better trade show approaches.  If you don't do trade shows, use the experience to get completely new thinking about the things you do.
  • Walk around the internet and visit websites, blogs, videos and social media.  Your own.  Bet you haven't looked at your own online presence in a while.  Now check out competitors, related businesses, customer sites, supplier sites, potential customer and supplier sites. 
  • Have brainstorming sessions with your managers, select individuals from various departments, suppliers, customers, outside service providers.  No holds barred.  No negative talk.  No bad ideas.  Just let it flow.  Start with an agenda of things to brainstorm.  Throw out the agenda at the end of the session.
  • Call customers at random and ask them to be candid about their experience with your service, your products, your customer service, your advertising, your online presence.  
  • Instill an atmosphere that allows anyone to challenge the accepted order.  With respect, of course.
 If reading the above list does not trigger the thought in you that following some of those ideas could add significantly to your companies efficacy, productivity, understanding, and profit, then your ivory tower syndrome is out of control. 

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