[Written for Apparel Magazine, October 2011] – story is applicable to any business or industry!!
I have been lucky enough to be doing an interesting project around education and how to improve it and have been working across a few countries on the project. I am writing this on an Air NZ flight “as we speak”… There are many approaches to us educating our kids around the world and there are many reasons for success or not. I have come across many lessons that can be applied to business, so enjoy the ride and hope that you learn something (or at least get a reminder on what you might be doing!)…
EDUCATION LESSON 1: Currently worldwide in education everybody is copying each other more than ever before in the quest to have the highest levels of attainment.
BUSINESS LESSON 1: Look at the best competitors and like companies (globally) out there and learn from them. Sure you cannot directly copy a product exactly but… Nobody owns a good business idea, so look around for what is happening and working and implement. And then keep looking forever.
EDUCATION LESSON 2: Worldwide countries compare themselves to see where they rank… This helps them formulate a strategy to improve in the ratings.
BUSINESS LESSON 2: We have so much internal information available in business that we must be proactive in using it for good and fixing the ‘bad performance data’ and learning from and continuing to improve the ‘good performance data’. Of course to have good information, a business must have a good system and actually know how to get the most out of it (and hands on heart, most companies are not very good at that).
EDUCATION LESSON 3: Technology, after several false starts is finally making a difference in education achievement. The internet (obviously) also makes a major difference nowadays to children’s knowledge.
BUSINESS LESSON 3: Beyond getting good information from your ‘system’ (per lesson 2), are you using your system as efficiently as you could? Most businesses do not realise the power of their system and also often bad set up initially means bad usage and poor effectiveness resulting from the system. The internet – yes obvious but 51% of NZ businesses still do not have a website. Is your home page maximising the potential conversion of ‘lookers’ into a sale or a sales lead? Whilst a lot of businesses have had a website for a couple of years now, we are still very poor at driving traffic to our websites and making sales from.
EDUCATION LESSON 4: Countries seeing the biggest improvement in education results are focusing on under achieving students.
BUSINESS LESSON 4: How many of your team in your business are under achieving? Do you actually really know who is not performing? What are you doing about it? Most under achievers will not be covering their “cost of seat” so you are losing money having them in the team. 53% of under achievers are not achieving as they are not sure what they are supposed to be doing. Work with your under achievers (once you identify them) for 6 months and see them improve, or you know…
EDUCATION LESSON 5: Countries seeing the biggest improvement in education results are also focusing on high standards for teachers.
BUSINESS LESSON 5: Setting goals gives you an immeasurable higher chance of success. Writing down what you expect of your team and individuals (and this is at the A- achievement level, as in not the impossible A+ but also not the “chilled” C+ level either) will be a big step in the right direction of how your business (and team and yourself!) can improve.
EDUCATION LESSON 6: Decentralisation (handing power back to the schools) is part of the template for education success.
BUSINESS LESSON 6: You do not want to run your business or team as a dictatorship. Empower your team. Let them know the standards you expect and let them go on their way to achieve those standards. Do have built in “exception controls” though so that when they are heading off the planned course you know and can proactively help them get back on course.
EDUCATION LESSON 7: Countries improving the most in education and also the top of the crop countries have different offerings in education for different students.
BUSINESS LESSON 7: Everybody in your business and every area in your business (department etc) needs to fit into your culture (do you actually know what you culture is?) but they will fit within it and achieve good results operating a way that works for them. Flexibility is key in ensuring that individuals and teams can hit their maximum performance levels and to maximise your profitability. Treat everybody as an individual, not a number!
EDUCATION LESSON 8: Not everything in education needs to change. Some parts of communist East Germany’s education system were very successful so Germany has kept these and built them into the rest of the German education system.
BUSINESS LESSON 8: I am a big proponent normally of everything is up for review, even if it is not broken as continuous improvement is a 24/7/365 thing. But do not forget past successes especially when people involved in those past successes come and go. It is amazing how many good things we were doing 5 or 10 years ago have been forgotten 100%. Disney make a big thing during their (legendary) induction system to ensure that new team members know all about what has worked well in the past. How can you remember the great things that happen today or yesterday so that they are not forgotten about tomorrow? I mean the more intangible things, not systems and process, so the real value adds?
EDUCATION LESSON 9: Structure in education can change very quickly… Actually improving the standard of teachers takes a lot longer to happen.
BUSINESS LESSON 9: When you start making change in business you should see some real quick wins and the impact from such. The real big wins though will take some time to flow through your business or team. Business culture (a good one is so critical to success), individual attitude and skill capability improvements take the medium term at least to form part of the inherent DNA of the business. When you see good things happening in your business (the quick wins) do not rest on your laurels and remember there is a lot more you can be doing that will take that much longer to implement and impact your bottom-line.
Well hopefully you can take some lessons from global education and apply them to how you run your business, your team or “your self”. Maybe they could impact beyond your job. Often business and job lessons (well almost always) are 110% applicable to your personal life and situation. If you would like help on any of the above or just want to work through how you can grow your profits and cashflow in your business I will hear from you no doubt at some stage… firstname.lastname@example.org +64 21 775 660 www.businesschanging.com