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The Secret Of Success

May 31, 2008

This week I presented at the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) conference in Palm Springs, California.

Following my presentation, I participated in a discussion about the challenges of “collaboration and competencies in business development”. This was undertaken in partnership with Howard Nutt, Executive Director of the Business Development Institute, and Stacy Goff, Vice-President of ASAPM. It was very evident that IACCM members face challenges that are extremely similar to those confronting bid managers, proposal managers, project managers …… we are all wrestling with issues of speed, workload, cooperation, leadership, clarity of roles etc.

One question we sought to address was how to fix the dilemma of skills and talent. There was discussion around motivation and morale, of the difficulty in attracting and retaining the best people. It was all fairly standard stuff. Then a lady at the back spoke up. She recounted the story of a female business owner who had become her mentor in her student days and had left lasting memories that continued to steer her actions.

The business owner had built a very successful nail salon – so successful that she in fact expanded to running three of four salons within a very short time. She cared fervently about customer service and knew that the best way to achieve this was to invest in her people. But very soon, they became targets for every aspiring nail-salon entrepreneur. Some were tempted away, often at real inconvenience to the owner and her remaining staff. Yet this business owner never seemed to be upset – she did not remonstrate, or cut back on investment, or seek to control the departures.

The lady recounting this story had asked the salon owner why she seemed so relaxed about losing staff, to which the entrepreneur replied “I am not losing staff, the industry is gaining them”. She took the view that a thriving industry could only be good for her – so this was her way of investing.

In case you immediately think that this story is relevant only to small consumer business, it reminded me of my wife, another very successful female entrepreneur who operates in b2b markets. She too invests heavily in her staff and takes every measure to enable and empower them. They are also targets for many of the industry’s big-hitters who can offer larger salaries and dangle career prospects. Yet she ensures that employees depart on good terms and feel appreciated for their efforts.

These attitudes of enablement have interesting side-effects. First, it helps maintain employee morale – they are regularly reminded that they are among the best in the industry. Second, even those who leave remain remarkably loyal – in many cases they seek to return, in others they become powerful ambassadors for the company. Third, that spirit of excellence flows throughout the company, generating real enthusiasm to serve customers and gain their respect and trust. Even if at times they find themselves short-handed.

The key point from this story is that flourishing and successful organizations are open and sharing, they seek to enable their own employees and to empower their customers, they are built on trust and respect. Sure, there are occasional individuals who abuse that trust and they must be watched out for; but overall, it seems the benefits of attitudes that ‘contribute to the industry’ far outweigh the alternative view of ‘protect my turf’.

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! The real secret is to be completely inclusive, never exclusive. It’s all about contributing rather than conquering territory. Customers will immediately take note of this mentality and continue supporting your business, as you support them and perhaps even other businesses!

    I’m an official Microsoft ambassador and right now we’re really trying to scale up our connections with influential bloggers like yourself. I’d love to share with you some of the stuff we’ve been doing in the last couple months to help women entrepreneurs; we’re really committed to providing all the necessary resources to help women start, grow and expand their business.

    We just wrapped up a women’s entrepreneurial tour across the US called “Vision To Venture;” the response and turn-out was great!

    I’d really love your take on these offerings we have right now; I would have contacted you via email but I didn’t know which was the best way to reach you.

    Thank you so much, I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds by directly contacting you. Definitely get back to me if I’ve piqued your interest– I’d love to share more info with you.

    Official Microsoft Ambassador

  2. chrisarlen permalink

    Great story. Sometimes it’s hard to explain the benefits from an altruistic approach. This story does. Thanks.

  3. Surya Vangara permalink

    I liked the way story has been told and the rationale behind the actions.

    I believe in and practice what has been said in the story. I partition my career into three segments — Banking, IT in Banking and IT Consulting each spanning approx 9 years. As I moved from one to the other, the frequency at which the ‘trust’ is breached has only increased — this in IT Consulting uncomparable to both the prior segments — of course, the values in the last 25 years have as much changed. There is a point when, your organization becomes the training ground for the industry and it hurts badly. So, it is the size of he industry that dictates organization behaviour and cannot be universally adopted as a principle.

    I am a firm believer in lifting the ‘trust’ factor in organizations by positive attitude towards empowering employees. This, according to me, is the single most differentiating factor which made many managers work for me, though tough. Also, the downside of ‘protect my turf’ generally does not end with Organization and permeates into Unit and Depratments of the organization and hence definitely lend negative attitude towards empowering employees. This, in itself, should be a motivating factor for entrepreneurs and business leaders to ensure barriers are not built in face of some inconvenience at loss of staff to other organizations.

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