I remember early in my career coming to the conclusion that there are very few new and original ideas out there and that, while I might get lucky, I was unlikely to come up with one. It was then that I decided that my path to success in business would need to rely on my ability to network with people smarter than me and become good at avoiding the mistakes of others while improving on their ideas.
In school we are taught, for obvious reasons, that plagiarism is bad and that copying someone else’s work should be avoided. When we leave school we learn that imitation is the greatest form of flattery and that learning to improve on the best ideas of others can be the stepping stone to success and the creation of wealth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you engage in immoral or unethical acts to get ahead. There’s a reason trademarks and patents exist. But I am suggesting that you are not alone in your challenges and part of your valuable time should be spent with those you admire, sharing your ideas and frustrations, while learning from them.
It’s true that the older you get, the more you realize you don’t know that much. And, as time slips by, you become motivated to cut to the chase and accelerate the trajectory toward your goals. Some call this wisdom. Organizations like InfoComm, NSCA, and CEDIA have long understood that a stronger industry is good for all. To that end they invest millions each year in training and bringing together the best in the business to share their stories and wisdom with the next generation of leaders. The growth and popularity of the annual NSCA Business and Leadership Conference is a great example.
But you don’t have to wait for these big events to network and share best practices. Over the last few years I’ve been encouraging our key manufacturers to balance their regional and national sales events with best practice roundtables and open discussions on specific and relevant topics. An encouraging sign I’ve noticed at these events are the number of really smart young leaders that are emerging with great new ideas. My challenge has become accepting that there might be a better way to do some things I consider sacred and having the courage to try them.
The most productive best practice meetings that I have participated in were small groups of like-minded individuals willing to open up the kimono in a safe environment. The meetings include an agenda of topics, a leader or facilitator (usually the host company), and a requirement that everyone has to share. While the meetings themselves are very productive, the real magic happens when we get home and the relationships built during the meeting turn into side conversations and phone calls all year long, seeking advice and ideas among participants. If implemented properly, best practice meetings spawn year round sharing and lifelong friendships.
As I write this article, our operations and service managers are returning from a two-day operations best practice meeting with 28 other companies from across the country that do what we do. While they were traveling they took time to visit two similar companies to see their operations. This year select leaders in our company, including myself, will have participated, at different times, in over one dozen similar events, not including national manufacturer events and shows. Sales, marketing, operations, IT, and accounting are all on the list. Everyone who participates in these organized best practice meetings raves about their value. You could even say that the results we’re seeing are magical.
Mike Bradley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president of Safeguard Security and Communications in Scottsdale, AZ. Bradley has participated in sales and management in the lowvoltage contracting industry for 32 years. He served for 11 years on the NSCA board of directors and is a frequent speaker on marketing and management topics at various industry events.
Suppliers Know What’s Best
Okay, I admit that on the surface, most integrators wouldn’t agree that “suppliers know what’s best.” But consider for a moment that the viewpoint of manufacturers, suppliers, and manufacturer representatives is much broader than ours, especially if they have a national reach. They see the best and the worst every day. They know who the good integrators are and who the bad integrators are. Key manufacturers and suppliers (often those with limited distribution) develop deep relationships with integrators and are privy to the secret sauce that makes certain integrators stand out.
In other words, the good ones have a unique perspective on the best practices that could help accelerate your success. The problem is that most of us won’t admit that key vendors have value far beyond the product they provide. If we were smart we would always be asking the following questions:
* Who else is doing a great job for you?
* What are they doing differently that you really like?
* Would you be willing to introduce me to one of their key leaders?
* What is happening to our industry in other parts of the country?
* Where do you see the market going?
* What’s going to be the next big game changer?
* What makes you the most nervous?
* What makes you optimistic?
If you only have your vendors meeting with sales and operations and you don’t engage directly as a company leader, you may be missing out on a great opportunity to learn what your suppliers know best. Buy them lunch for a change and pick their brains. You might just learn something.