Training & Development

Quint’s column: Learning how to learn from the best

Quint Studer leads the Studer Community Institute's Performance Management workshop at WSRE at Pensacola State College on April 6. Credit: Shannon Nickinson.

If you knew the name of someone who has the key to your own business success, would you ask him for the answers?

It sounds easy. But asking for help doesn’t happen as often as one may think. Countless books and speakers I’ve heard often suggest benchmarking – studying others having success in an area you want to improve – as a fantastic way to make you and your company better. It’s also referred to as “best practices,” processes or tactics that achieve excellent results.

So there are these best practices to learn from, and there are people who are skilled in them who are willing to share. So why aren’t best practices learned more often?

Here are the two common barriers:

— Ego or Fear. A person’s ego often stops him from asking for help. Along the same lines, the fear of learning the best or a better way and not being able to execute keeps people from asking.

One would think leaders who are not achieving needed results would be lining up to learn from someone willing to help them. Not so. For years I traveled the country. In doing so I met many people, and at times I would learn of organizations having great success. I would also come across organizations who were not having success. My goal then would be to match them up.

I would provide contact information from the organization doing well and suggest the organization doing not as well contact them. I would notify the strong organization that they might be getting a call.

Then, after about 90 days, I would ask the best practice company whether the lower performing organization reached out to them. The usual answer? No.

The saying goes: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” We have some reluctant students.

There is a manager of a small store in Pensacola who achieves great results. He is particularly adept at managing labor to demand, flexing the staff up or down depending on what’s happening each day.

However, he has created such a culture that even if staff is sent home and they do not get the work hours they want, they still have very strong employee engagement results. By flexing staff so well, even when the store is not achieving budgeted revenue, they hit their bottom line.

For months I have been recommending to a number of people who are not achieving their labor hour percentages to sales that they reach out to this high-performing leader.

Finally last week a person reached out. When I asked the high performer who it was, it was one of the better leaders. Not really that surprising. Better leaders look to get better.

Take time to ask yourself how often you take time to reach out and spend time studying and learning from others.

The most recent edition of Baseball America had an article on Baltimore Orioles manager (and Northwest Florida native) Buck Showalter. The article mentioned what a great manager Showalter is and his attention to detail, but they talked a lot about how he is always seeking out others to learn from.

Showalter recently spent time with New England Patriots head coach and five-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick. Why? Showalter wants to get better. The best still strive to get better.

Don’t let ego or fear get in your way. Take that walk, ride and make that phone call.

— Relate more than compare. Look at your situation and someone else’s within your sector, and yes, of course there will be differences. However, there are more commonalities than differences.

It is easy to fall into the trap that the other person has better customers, a more ideal location, better employees, etc,. These just add up to excuses. Look for what is either being done differently, more consistently or handled more skillfully. Take time to observe.

A manager in a specific area of a large company was achieving better results in customer service – far superior than anyone else in the organization. When the top executive asked her what she was doing to get these great results, her answer was “What everyone else was doing.” She rationalized away her accomplishments so her peers would not feel bad.

Without a clear answer, a top executive then took time to observe and had others observe what this shining star did. After a while, they all noticed something she did with every customer. When they shared with her what they had noticed, she asked doesn’t everybody do that?

The answer was no. Everyone followed her lead and this company gained a national reputation for customer service.

Take time this week to reach out to someone. If you are wondering who, e-mail me at quint@quintstuder.com and I can provide some suggestions.

It’s easy to temper ourselves and stay the same, but the key that opens the door to better performance is to relate and learn.

What do almost all companies have in common? Customers, suppliers, inventory, billing, expenses, revenue and the need to have more revenue over expenses.

Let’s drop the ego, end the trap of comparing and make our businesses stronger.