Sunday, 6 February 2011

Good beginnings

A week is much too short a time to judge a change of job.

Still, I’ve sometimes known in hours – minutes, even – that a new post wasn’t right for me. So it’s great to have ended the first week in my new company at least as enthusiastic as I started it.

I’ve believed for years that the only point of a business is to provide the best possible service to its clients. What’s possible may not always be as good as one might like, but to strive to be anything less than the best feels to me like setting one's ambition unbearably low.

That’s not always a position that’s popular with shareholders. In two companies I’ve been told by Chief Executives ‘we don’t always have to be the best though, do we?’ One of those companies went on to achieve great success despite its mediocrity, the other achieved only mediocrity. I suspect that if the Chief Executives read these words and realised they applied to them, each would be convinced that their company was the one I regarded as successful.

In fact, in my view both have failed. Both are known in the market place to deliver poor value for money. If the successful one has prospered it is only because it has been able, by clever positioning, to persuade customers that it’s the safe choice. There was a time when it was said that ‘no-one ever got fired for buying IBM’; the successful mediocrity managed to create itself a position of similar dominance, in its own much smaller market.

So the shareholders did well. But it saddens me to think how much more they could have achieved had they been prepared to go the extra mile and deliver quality.

That’s why the most impressive moment of the first week in my new company was a sales presentation at which we were accompanied by representatives of an existing client. They faced the audience and told them ‘you have to buy this system’ and set out to prove their point by describing what they’d done with it themselves and what they’d achieved as a result.

Now that’s something I’ve never seen before and it’s exactly what I think business should be about: clients so pleased with the product that they will go out and urge others to buy it. I’ve had clients before who’ll receive a visit from new prospects, but it’s the first time I’ve seen them go to them to try to win them over.

So it was a good week.

I ended it in Torbay, in Devon, a place closely linked to where I spent my adolescence. Turning up there early for my meeting, I went for a walk along the promenade. In February, in England, you don’t expect sun beating down from a blue sky. But being in a place with pleasant associations for me, after a week which had given me some encouraging surprises, I didn’t feel the fine rain, just the freshness; I wasn't bothered by the wind, just enjoyed the sea air; and I didn’t feel oppressed by the dark skies, just revelled in the concert of slate grey sea under light grey clouds, with the white crests of the waves whipped by the wind.

Torbay in the winter
It felt like a good start.

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