The Top 10 Business Lessons We Can’t Afford to Ignore

I’m often asked what lessons I’ve learned in business.  And trust me, I’ve discovered countless lessons through trial and error.  But ten have stood out as the most significant lessons so far.  Each is rooted in understanding that organizations are made of people, not processes and equipment.  I’ve encouraged every Windstream employee to understand these lessons to help drive our success, and join me in finding new lessons we haven’t discovered yet.

#1:  You Can Never Over Communicate.

We as human beings are constantly trying to understand the world around us, primarily through official information, or when that’s not available, seeking information wherever we can.  I’ve seen poor managers over my career that hoard that information like precious gold with the mentality that they’ll communicate at the point that their employees need to know something.  But in any organization, that’s a recipe for low morale and poor productivity.

Communicating freely allows people to feel engaged, like owners of the business, and ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction.  Take time to let your team know details of the business and why decisions are made, and with that new understanding, they’ll serve our customers as if they were the owners themselves.

#2: Give people time to absorb change.

When you communicate early on about a change to a  process and explain why the change is happening, it helps.  Sometimes, people need more time to understand change.

By taking a little more time, we can be assured that employees understand the reasoning for the moves.

#3: You can never over appreciate

If you think of an organization like a complex machine with thousands of moving parts, then both courtesy and appreciation are the lubricants that make it hum.  All of us know the power and value of appreciation when we have received it ourselves.  And all of us at some point have gotten too wrapped up in our day-to-day activities to stop and thank someone.

I ask our employees to make a point of giving appreciation to someone at least once per week, especially between departments.  It can be through a hand-written note, a public recognition at a staff meeting, or a more formal company program.  Whatever the method, a little appreciation yields big rewards.

#4: Find a way to give the best people what they want, or they will get it somewhere else.

I’ve learned over the years that everyone is motivated by different things, and a one-size fits all approach to rewarding employees may not motivate all employees like you’d expect.  For some, flexible hours are of highest importance, or for others, it’s public recognition.  The key is to figure out that personal motivator for each person and give it to them.  Often, the reward they crave the most might be the last thing you’d think.

#5: Always try to offer new products that will compete with your current products.

At any given moment, every organization has perhaps dozens of competitors working each day to show why their service or widget is superior to yours.  They’re working to make your widget irrelevant, and effective leaders beat their competitors to the punch. Those leaders find the killer product that will displace their core line of business before someone else does it for them.

#6: Don’t listen to “industry experts”

At Windstream, we’ve had a countless number of experts offer-up their best strategic advice, and some of what was called the most brilliant and insightful advice years ago, we now know would have put us out of business.  The fact is no one has as much to gain or lose as the leaders themselves  of the business, and often, it’s important to follow your own business plan and do what you think is best.

#7: Do what’s right, no matter how painful.

The telecom industry has received its share of black eyes over the past decade. But the same advice which we received from our parents as a child still applies in the business world.  Integrity always prevails, and what you do behind closed doors will usually come to light.

When you come to that proverbial fork in the road and need to make a decision between what you know is right but painful, and maybe something a little shady but easier, simply decide to show your managerial courage and always choose the right path.

#8: We tend to fire underperformers too slowly.

I know I tend to give people too many chances to try a second or third role to see if someone has a different fit in the company, and that process can often take up to two years.  In the meantime, we’re doing a disservice to the company, and ultimately to that employee who is struggling in the wrong role.

I’ve found that 90% of the time, I eventually end up letting that misplaced person go and realized that I could have done that much quicker.  Sometimes you just can’t put a defensive tackle in a running back slot. But, we also need to remember that 10% of the time, you actually can find the perfect role for someone and they thrive.

#9: Encourage management to get involved in the community

As organizations, we exist not just for our owners and customers, but to serve the communities in which we live. Imagine if all organizations became more involved in their communities and helped with the charities for which they have a passion.

Not only does philanthropy  keep employees connected to the community and motivated, but I’m convinced that the costs incurred in corporate philanthropy are more than offset by new business generated from the increased exposure.

#10: Have fun!

More than anything, we need to deliberately take time to have fun.  As business people, it’s easy to get caught up in E-Mails, deadlines and appointments and forget that this work experience is supposed to be fun.

As an example, throw a beach party for no reason at all.  I recently asked a dozen co-workers to bring their office chairs into the parking lot and we had a pick-up office-chair football game for 15 minutes.  Or maybe schedule your next staff meeting at the baseball stadium during a matinee game.

Work can and should be fun, and when you enjoy what we do, do what’s right, and properly manage your teams, driving growth in your company takes a whole new perspective.