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44. Tom Peters searching for small business excellence in tough times No 6

Precept Number 5 from In Search of Excellence is: ‘Hands-on, Value-Driven:

A bit enigmatic, but what Peters means by this is that management does not retire from the frontline and only get involved in strategy, but gets ‘stuck in’, and that the business that they get stuck into is driven by a management philosophy which is understandable because everyone knows what the business stands for.

So management show commitment, and they have and project a vision which drives the everyday practices of the business from top to bottom. Not usually difficult for the small business manager to show commitment – although it is easy for anybody to develop a tendency to hide when things get tough. But no problem or issue was ever resolved, nor any opportunity exploited,┬áby ignoring it. So keep that ‘hands-on’ focus and lead by example.

But the vision can be a bit more difficult. If what you are committed to is not valuable to your customers, then the commitment in itself is not going to deliver much. The vision is what makes your business special. It may be the quality of the product, the care taken with the service, or the speed of service; it may be friendliness and humour or extreme efficiency, diligence or quirkiness, image or people. But whatever it is, if your customers value it, half the battle is won.

The other half is making sure they and potential customers perceive that value. And that will often come from how well it is projected in every aspect of your business, but especially through the people within the business. If everone in and indeed involved with the business is ‘on message’ then the power of that expands exponentially:

If your customers are ‘on message’ they will refer your business to their friends and contacts, and, because they understand what is special, they will communicate that effectively. If your staff are ‘on message’, then whether they are talking or writing, working or relaxing, they too will be communicating effectively the same story. And the same is true of suppliers and any other stakeholders. All will tend to make your business the supplier of choice.

And as the economic climate gets tougher, being in that position becomes even more valuable. Some businesses, of course, have never been able to achieve a status which is special in any way, and in harsh times, if these businesses do not find something which gives them that status at least for a target customer segment, they are the most at risk.

Many more businesses are special to their customers in one or more ways but are not fully aware of it themselves, and so that sense of what is important about the business is hidden and difficult to see if you are not already aware of it. These businesses have the wherewithall to survive but may struggle to do so, unless they can clarify these strengths and ensure that staff and customers become more aware of what they value and what is to be valued in this business.

Those that get both aspects of the product and its communication right should be able to prosper even in tough times. Which category is your business in?

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