Vince Lombardi, the late, great Packers’ coach is often misquoted as having said: “Practice makes perfect.” The real quote attributed to him is: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” And, while perfection is typically unattainable, putting into action best practices that point us in that direction, can be a true game changer in succeeding in our markets and against our meediocre competition.
The process of finding, reviewing, developing, and implementing best practices for a business is just that, a process. The first question that must be asked is: “Is it worth the time, risk, investment, and effort to put this process into motion?” If you can answer this question with a “yes,” then you have begun to answer the “why” you believe it to be important for the company. One of the more valuable lessons learned in recent years, is that customers are getting harder to acquire and just as hard to retain. And they should be. They expect businesses to deliver their goods and services in as an efficient and cost saving manner as possible, delivering the greatest value. Aiming to be mediocre, is in reality, even if not intentionally, a give-up business model with temporary comfort at best. As a business owner you must avoid the trap of complacency – the fastest route to mediocrity. Continuous improvement and a goal to be the best in your market, is the only road to surviving and thriving in this supply-interrupted economic landscape.
Adopting Best Practices - Make it a Company Rule
With the recent disruptions in supply delivery and consistent staff shortages, many business leaders are taking on more and more daily responsibilities. While it’s admirable to devote more attention to detail, typically a good thing, it can also limit the creativity and macro-choices that are available to us. As a leader you must always adopt the goal of best practices and think in terms of the big picture. It is essential for company growth in the long term. If we only look down when we walk, we will miss other, possibly better paths to our destination. Examining alternate methods and programs for the company even amid new obstacles in a post-pandemic climate, will produce choices. When weighed against the status quo, as long as we remain aligned with the company goals, this commitment to growth will lead to innovative solutions and long-term profitability.
Great Leaders are Great Story Tellers
A warning – implementing a best practices process in your company will mean changes are inevitable. And, change is not always comfortable. Methods, procedures, and even staff may be subject to being turned upside down during the process. As my friend and colleague, Greg Johnson, says, “A few eggs are going to be broken.” If a best practices culture does not exist in the company today, it may be an uphill battle initially. The biggest enemy of change is “but we’ve always done it this way.” Therefore, explaining why it is necessary to become a market leader is going to be critical to your success. Great leaders are great story tellers. They paint pictures for people that inspire folks to want to be better. This ability to lead and inspire is very necessary when undertaking a large initiative that breaks the status quo. Pursuing best practices will push you and everyone around you out of the current comfort zone – a good thing. Being open to other ways of doing things, opens the door for the process to begin. Sometimes, and probably more times than not, getting to a best practices position requires a change in personnel. Not everyone will share your vision or understand why change needs to occur. The only way to be the best company is to have the best people in the best positions. Mediocre people deliver mediocre results. The hardest realization, and the largest hurdle for a leader, is to acknowledge the fact that not everyone in the company will make it as best practices are put into place. The impetus for change comes down to one thing. The discomfort of a failing business must be more uncomfortable than the comfort of a second-rate business. Enough so that it moves him or her to change and seek better, and eventually, best practices. The thought of accepting mediocrity must be more than unsettling. It must feel like a compulsion to change.
Discomfort in Business Leads to Positive Change
Looking inward and being willing to objectively assess your business, is the first step to being able to look outward and make positive change. Observing current procedures and asking how we can improve them, even if it is just one or two aspects of the system, sets in motion the best practices pursuit. Ask your staff to review how they do certain tasks currently in their daily work life. Have outsiders come in as well, to observe your operation. Different perspectives bring a slew of different views, questions, and comments. Two key points are worth mentioning here: industry resources such as ACCA Mix Groups and consultants, help to bring an extra set of “industry eyes” with which to view your company as well as noncompetitive business leaders in your community who come with alternate points of view that cross industry boundaries. I belonged to two groups, both a mix group, made up of noncompeting HVACR leaders from across the country which met twice annually, and a CEO group in my community. Again, this was a noncompeting group and we met monthly. Both groups were solely dedicated to developing, discussing, sharing, and examining best practices for our respective businesses. Both groups performed a complete business review with very revealing results. As a consultant, I have also reviewed businesses to offer constructive suggestions and modifications to their current methods. No matter which role I’ve been in, I have always come away with new ideas for my own company. Certainly, whether being reviewed or reviewing, causes a certain amount of discomfort. But comfort is the partner of mediocrity. Discomfort can be positive when it causes necessary change to occur. It disrupts the status quo and that leads to growth. I’ve written before that change for change’s sake is ridiculous and only disruptive. However, change for the purpose of improving the person or company, is worthwhile and wholly necessary.
Best Practices That Align with Your Brand
Many times, the new best practice that culminates from these meetings, is an amalgam or a modification of the current practice, within an implemented program at another company. Discovering another procedure and thinking it will fit perfectly into your organization without doing any tweaking, is a bit unrealistic. Your organization is unique and to get the most out of a change that is made, it must align with the basic, good foundation of your company. It is up to you and your team members to tailor it to your market, goals, and corporate culture.
It’s easy to put people within an industry in the same room and have them find many common subjects on which to speak. This also happens to be true of business leaders from diverse backgrounds and a variety of industries. There are more similarities of experiences and challenges in business than there are differences. Just describe a situation (try personnel for a quick response) and then ask the question, “Has anyone else had to deal with that?” Most people have had experience with whatever you’ve described, or something so close that it’s applicable. You begin to hear different ways in which the situation was handled. This leads to the realization that there may be a better way to deal with your challenge in the future. Conversely, you may share an idea that someone else picks up, and makes an incremental improvement in his or her business as well.
Understanding that an area of the business is ripe for change and actually having a change occur, are two different things. Having my business reviewed and then filing the review in the filing cabinet would be a big waste of time for all involved, not to mention expensive for multiple reasons. Both groups to which I belonged held its members accountable for the changes they had agreed to implement. This is a best practice for each of these groups. Accountability to your peers is a great motivator for business leaders. It is the constant nudge to move you out of your comfort zone towards continuous improvement.
Fact: Leaders need pushing too. We each act as a mentor to one another.
Prioritize Ideas as You Move Toward Best Practices
It is worth pointing out that if you attend a conference or seminar or have a business review and come back with 44 great ideas, your staff will experience terminal frustration and confusion if you attempt to implement all of these ideas at once. You may have caught the passion for change, but all your staff will see is the new work and procedures that will have to be put into place. Prioritizing the ideas you glean from others, and methodically putting them into practice, is the best way to get those practices adopted. As the best practices process becomes more routine, the changes tend to become more incremental in nature and not as overwhelming as in the beginning. Properly done, your key people will develop an eye and ear for best practices from other businesses. They will develop organic innovations within, and begin to look at situations with a more creative perspective. Again, it’s up to you and your management team to prioritize new ideas and discuss them in-depth as a way to forecast any unintended consequences prior to their adoption.
Finding and implementing best practices inside your company is all a part of a continual dedication to improvement. Over time, you may discover that what was once a best practice, may no longer be the best practice today. The fundamentals upon which a business is built typically don’t change rapidly. However, the tools we use to conduct the running of the business often do change more quickly than we would like to admit. The obvious area in which we see this is occur is in technology, especially as it affects all businesses. Another area is in labor relations with our people. Time has changed the expectations of benefits and the level of engagement and the manner of engagement of our entire staff. Staying competitive, keeping up with change, and getting out in front of those changes, requires us to constantly look for better ways to run our businesses. Best practices implementation allows companies to evolve, grow, and remain competitive.
The Reward for the Best Companies is Customer Loyalty
Taking your company to the next level by adopting best practices, is an intentional decision. It will involve some pain, time, trial and error, personnel adjustments, an open mind, and your discipline, to see that ideas are executed and implemented to the point where they become habits. Then, as the shampoo bottle says, wash, rinse, and repeat. Keep the process going. Adopt the idea of best practices as a company mantra, and you’ll be the one in an enviable position both in the industry and the market, able to ride the wave of any economy, able to avoid mediocrity, and continuously strive to be better. The reward – customers are attracted to the best companies and they will deliver the best kind of review: brand loyalty. When customers are loyal, that means they have chosen to spend their hard-earned dollars with you and not the company down the street.
Increasing business with the best tools and for all the right reasons, leads to growth, profitably, and customer loyalty, all of which seems like a truly best practice to me.
Theo Etzel grew up in Coral Gables, Florida and attended Stetson University. He graduated with a major in Economics and a minor in Finance.
Theo was CEO of Conditioned Air, in Naples, FL, for 23 years. In that time the company grew from $2.7 million in revenue to $55 million in sales. He stepped down as CEO in June of 2018 and is currently a partner and Director of Conditioned Air, now a $60+ million, regional organization in the residential and light commercial HVAC markets. Conditioned Air employs nearly 400 full-time workers, and has branch hubs in Ft. Myers and Sarasota. In 2015, Conditioned Air recapitalized with Gemini Investors out of Boston, MA and continues its organic and strategic acquisition growth plan. In 2010, they received the ACCA National Residential Contractor of the Year award. In 2011, Conditioned Air was awarded the Uncommon Friends Foundation Business Ethics Award for their commitment to Integrity in their business practices.
Theo was inducted into the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame in Collier County and named a Man of Distinction by the Collier County Champions for Learning. He and his company are heavily involved in the community through a variety of organizations.
Theo is the author of the book, Invest Your Heartbeats Wisely, released in April of 2016. The book focuses on practical, philosophical, and principled leadership concepts for business and life.