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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Convention and creativity

"Mediocrity: It takes a lot less time and most people won't notice the difference until it's too late."

One of the most interesting aspects of business is how most of us accept mediocrity, most of the time. We know of the terrible client service at the telecom companies, the piddling stupidity of 'rush hour' traffic (a misnomer of phrase if there ever is one) and the dumb, arrogant, and wasteful exercise of office politics and perks. Some of us rebel, some of the time. We find other answers, routes, ways around the boring banality that so much of business is today. Or we seek effectively offensive solutions-- with a willigness to irritate the many in order to find business with the few ( . . . have you ever seen a telemarketer at work or, worse, been one.)

There are better ways, of course, and I expect most successful businesses to some extent find these -- or they wouldn't survive. In truth, you only need to have part of the picture exceptionally 'right' to succeed; you can follow 'standard practice and get by with the rest. Of course, it is refreshing when you find businesses which go beyond the standard, and find ways to allow their employees to express their creativity, achieve success, and still serve their clients and the marketplace effectively and profitably.

I want my business to fit in that small, special, and vital category -- innovating in core areas; and refusing to tolerate mediocrity in the rest of the enterprise. So, here are the rules.
  • We've banned "rush hour" (within reason). Our business encourages telecommuting and work-from-home arrangements. We have an office and our support (office) staff will need to be in the building in core business hours (otherwise the whole thing doesn't run very well); but even then we are reasonable -- if it is snowing miserably, distant employees can arrange to work from home and, that day, clients may have to deal with a little more voice mail than usual.
  • We don't "read resumes" and "interview prospective employees". Well, not exactly, resumes, interviews, and reference checks are part of our hiring picture, but not in the conventional order/cycle. Instead, we encourage prospective candidates to "interview themselves" with a preliminary questionnaire -- only if they answer it will we even bother to read their resumes (but everyone who sends in a resume will receive the questionnaire; the person responding -- not us -- will be the 'screen' for suitability. Our systems work really well -- we don't waste time in the hiring process, and are getting it right. (The payoff: Our employees don't need to worry about 'rush hour'.)
  • We believe in giving more than taking; the paradox is the giving works far better than any conventional 'taking' in finding new business. This blog, for example, has become something of a 'lead machine' for the sales team. Readers respond to our offer of Seven Tips for Construction Marketing Success, and then take up the offer to do business with us. Of course, you don't need to do business with us to read the report, email me, or ask questions. (And I've enjoyed some useful and valuable dialogues and information sharing with non-clients whom we never expect to do business with.)
  • We believe business should be (mostly) fun; not the phony 'rah rah' type of enjoyment; rather the satisfaction of doing the right kind of work, at the right time, for the right people. I am not going to force a really good administrative person to be a salesperson (though she earns a significant annual bonus helping out on a sales project which she enjoys); and we don't expect our sales team to be journalists or writers (though two of them actually have journalism training, and when they are not suggesting stories to our editor, they sometimes write their own stuff -- attending interesting events and meeting valuable sales contacts in the process. And, yes, our editor knows instinctively when to pass a lead onto the sales department.
  • Finally, we believe business should serve a useful purpose; in our case,helping our clients find more clients; and supporting our readers in understanding and addressing issues affecting their communities and industry. This is work for which we deserve to be paid -- and we are.
I'll continue to battle mediocrity, boring, wasteful and stupid practices with the goal of creating and building something useful for everyone around us. This is not a machine, of course. We are human and sometimes things don't work the way they should. But more often than not, we are winning the battle against mediocrity and stupidity.

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