My mantra is to leave them better than I found them, which means I want to have a positive effect on each person or situation I encounter. It would be dishonest if I do not reveal I fail often to fulfill this purpose, but it is what I strive to do.
Whether this is a long-term relationship, a conversation, a brief encounter, or just someone passing by, my purpose is to leave them better for it. That can mean a word of encouragement, a question that causes them to think about their situation, a simple thank you for their service, or a warm smile depending on the nature of the contact.
This is also my approach to business relationships and business challenges. The desire is that our customers, suppliers, and employees are better for being involved with our company. The approach to issues is to resolve them in a positive way that makes it better for all parties and not just “the business.”
Engage your customer
When we began our business, Flex-Ability Concepts, we talked to manufacturers and distributors. They told us no one has ever asked for such a product. We eventually sought out the actual users of the product—the framing contractors, the men on the ground. They loved it! They wanted to use it and told us they would be willing to purchase it.
Although the direct customer for a business like ours is the distributor, we recognize that we have to know the end user. If we do not ultimately make his life better, the product has no future. That’s where your intelligence will come from.
Understanding our end user is difficult, and we still struggle with that. However, we are working very hard to hear our user’s voice loud and clear. Never outsource the process of understanding your customer no more than you would outsource your personal relationships.
Yes, you can use a service to create surveys about your product and company, but to really understand your customer, you have to talk with them. Face-to-face conversations and follow-up questions will equip you with the knowledge to leave them better than you found them and maybe find a new service or product or process that will make their job and life better.
Invest in your team
Sales is the engine and operations is the fuel. Both have to be developed by setting expectations, training, and creating an environment that is positive and helps them grow. To be better than they were when they started.
In the beginning, we were mainly hiring people because of their skills. This was definitely true of the independent commission reps we hired for our sales team. They knew what they were doing, so we did not train or set expectations for them. To a lesser extent, we did the same with our operations team, although we did provide some training for them. We found ourselves hiring people for what they knew and then firing them for who they were.
Just like you cannot make great products with poor raw ingredients, you cannot build a great team hiring people that are not a good fit for what you want to accomplish. It is essential to know what to look for in employees. Identify the key traits your employees need to have. For us, it was the ability to problem solve and the desire to work with a team. It is equally important that they are teachable and dependable. Skills can be taught, but some of the most important traits can’t be. We hire for behavior and attitude first.
After hiring great employees, investing in them is vital. I believe if you do not invest in your people, they will get frustrated and leave because you have not provided a path for growth. You want to help them grow to be better than they were when they started. This is the key to retaining great employees and opportunities for business growth.
We offer apprenticeships for key production positions, management training for supervisors, and specialized training and workshops with the help of the career techs, colleges, equipment and software manufacturers, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, the Central Oklahoma Manufacturers Association, the Enterprise Excellence Group, and various memberships in professional associations.
There are plenty of resources available to help your team grow, and you should make use of them. Find the resources available, look at online options where needed, or even host a training if one isn’t available in your area. Most importantly, always be looking for opportunities to grow your staff and yourself.
Remember, every person you come in contact with is important. Not only do you have the opportunity to improve their life, but you can also learn from them as well.