A question of respect
In a time where we're obsessed with the shiny toys of technology, we often forget that all business is social and leadership and respect are the keys to growing a successful enterprise.
Last week's final session of the 2011 Let's Talk Business series was refreshingly different with David James of Sydney's Brasserie Bread, Mike Cannon-Brookes of software company Atlassian and business mentor Chris Witt telling their stories of leading growing enterprises.
Mike and David showed how real business leadership is about entrenching values within an organisation that fosters consistently good service and great products.
David told how Brasserie Bread treat their retail partners with generous commissions and services that encourage cross selling illustrated the key difference between smaller businesses taking the long view and the short-term views taken by corporate managers.
The cross selling and commission models work well for Brasserie Bread's retailers, the customer comes into a shop to pick up their bread order, buys a coffee while they are there and – as they discover more about the business – they become a regular.
While there's a great difference between a bakery and software company, Mike Cannon-Brookes had a similar view about values, telling how Atlassian has the "beer test" where they ask if a prospective employee would be interesting when talking over an after work drink.
Atlassian's main mantra though is "don't f*** the customer", which is notable in a business world largely dominated by the belief you give the customer the minimum you can get away with.
Both Brasserie Bread's and Atlassian's philosophies can be boiled down to one word: Respect.
Respecting customers, suppliers, staff and resellers is something that's forgotten by many larger businesses obsessed with short-term gains at the expense of anyone foolish or unfortunate enough to do business with them.
The current problems of big retailers can be put down to that lack of respect; for suppliers as they screwed the last cent out of their supply chains, for staff as they crudely cut numbers to achieve their performance targets and for customers who found service had become a word with little meaning in their stores.
It would be unfair to pick on the retailers though as most large organisations share that attitude of disrespecting everyone who doesn't sit on the same floor as the CEO.
Much of these beliefs on blindly cutting costs, outsourcing service and focusing on short-term KPIs came out of 1980s thinking at consulting firms and management schools.
Although the schools and consultants have updated their thinking, many business leaders are stuck in that short-term model which worked well during the two decades of easy credit we went through up to 2008.
Chris Witt summed this short-term thinking up well with his closing comment: "Neanderthal man's survival strategy was short-term, it didn't do him much good."
Respecting your business relationships is the key to long-term survival in these uncertain times, we need to be insuring we show the respect to our staff, supplier, customers and partners we hope they would give us.
Paul Wallbank is one of Australia’s leading experts on how industries and societies are changing in this connected, globalised era. When he isn't explaining technology issues, he helps businesses and community organisations find opportunities in the new economy.