The Benefits of Continuous Learning and Benchmarking your Business.
“Nobody knows my business better than I do” is a proud boast I sometimes hear when talking to business owners that have worked in their own SME business for a long time. They do not consider the possibility of benchmarking their business against other leading businesses. Many believe that they cannot actually improve their business or that an external person can offer meaningful insights that could actually make the business perform better. I frequently admire their confidence in their own abilities and perhaps some of them might be right – they do know it all.
However, what if there was even a small chance that the small or medium enterprise (SME) business owner is wrong? What if he hasn’t heard about the new tools or techniques used by some of his competitors? Could it be possible that he could be adding a couple of extra percentage points to his bottom line if only he tried some of the new techniques that have proven so worthwhile for others?
The real issue here is that we all too often get too close to the forest to see the trees. We can get myopic about what we are actually seeing and doing. We may be doing things simply because we always did them this way. This can be particularly true as new technologies transform the way that many businesses are run. Talk to Kodak or Fuji about their photographic film businesses and how they protected a business that frankly no longer needed protecting. They knew the business so well that they simply could not see that digital technology would wipe out their core photographic business in a few short years.
The reality, of course, is that nobody has all the answers. You need to maintain an external and an internal focus as you drive your business forward. You need to learn new tricks all of the time. In fact, I believe that continuous learning is essential in helping you to continue to run a competitive and prosperous business. This means that you need to learn to value an external perspective as well as your own judgment. There will always be certain nuances about how you do business that will make more sense to you than to an outsider, but the real challenge is to listen to external commentary and come out the other side with a balanced view.
This is where benchmarking comes into its own. Thousands of businesses just like yours have tried lots of different things and some have learned from both successes and failures. When you allow your business to be compared to others that are similar to yours and indeed to other businesses that are way more successful, there is a feedback loop that allows you to understand why the best companies perform better than the average company. You need to have the courage to sometimes admit that their way is in fact better than your way, and that your business might benefit from copying their tools, techniques and strategies.
One of the things that I constantly do is explore leading writers on organizations. For example, I follow the writings of Verne Harnish, author of “Mastering The Rockefeller Habits” and “Scaling Up”. He is an expert author on strategy and on how to significantly grow businesses.
I read books such as “Uncontainable” by Kip Tindell, to gain insights into building a service dominated business culture that serves customers and employees in equal measure while translating into enormous success in bottom line performance.
I thrive on learning from authors such as Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, who write about the thinking tools of the world’s most creative people in “Sparks of Genius”.
I am also a fan of “Topgrading” by Bradford D. Smart, who writes about how businesses should go about hiring the best talent and how to weed out B and C level players before you hire them. I love to understand why some businesses thrive by giving something away for nothing, as discussed by Chris Anderson in his book “Free”
I attend conferences with leading speakers such as Eben Pagan, an expert in Internet marketing; Brendon Burchard, a leader in high performance strategies for business people; Jeff Walker, author of “Launch” and creator of the Product Launch Formula; and Tony Buzan, creator of Mind Mapping – to name just a few.
I mention some of these thought leaders here, not to simply share my reading list with you, but to illustrate how reading and re-educating oneself continuously broadens the mind, and opens it up to new ideas and concepts that can be brought into play in your business. Without exposure to this type of material, it is impossible to stay current and to run your business according to evolving best business practices.
If you live in your own cocoon and just look inward, while continuing to do the same old things in your business, you are cutting off the opportunity to do significantly better. If you are not a reader or a conference attendee by nature, you might consider hiring people that are. I am confident that this practice will serve you and your SME business well. For my own part, I include my new found knowledge in products such as HowsMyBusinessDoing, wherein users can enjoy the benefits of competitor to non-competitor positive benchmarking against evolving best business practices.