This is part three of our series on Women in the Boardroom. In the last two blogs I presented the three main things that I believe are relevant to this topic: being yourself; being the best; and deliver, deliver, deliver. We also discussed debunking some of the perceptions out there and how to finesse those. Now we're going to get in-depth about being the best.
What do I really mean by being the best? Well, let's a journey. It will have twists and turns. We're going to go over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house and back, but trust me, we have a destination in mind.
I'm going to pull three major concepts together in order for you to really get a good picture of what it means to be the best in the corporate context.
Compare the rental car companies Avis and Hertz. Hopefully you recall the commercials from years back where Avis had a series of commercials emphasizing the motto “we try harder”. Basically, Avis was saying that they understood that they were the number two car rental company behind number one Hertz.
This goes back 20 years or so, but the model - the analogy is still accurate or still applicable because in this case, even with the mergers and acquisitions and consolidation going on in the car rental industry, the two big companies continue to be Avis and Hertz. As you think about those two, and it is not to say that you haven't had a bad experience, but as you think about those two would you say “Yeah, for the most part, as those two move, so goes the car rental industry”.
Now this has nothing to do with the Uber and Lyft that you know. This has nothing to do with the specialty or niche car rental market. As you start thinking about the two top brands out there, you would still say it's Avis and Hertz this many years later, but here's the interesting thing about it. Any conversations you have about the rental car business are going to be “how do you stack up against those two”? Those two are considered best in class.
I want you now to imagine that you are in a conversation with a corporate buyer, and imagine they perceive that you and your company are best in class. There you go. Problem solved. If you are perceived to be best in class, then you have done the work to earn your spot in the board room. If they believe that you have something that is either best in class or it can help them get to be best in class, then you are there.
Let's look at the opposite, untoward circumstance. Would you as a business owner or corporate buyer want to put your business at risk by working with the worst in class? You wouldn't - so we can take that option off the table.
Now under what circumstances would you say, “let me go with the middle of the road”? Well, you might do that based on cost and if the risks are low, but it wouldn't be your first choice, right? Your first choice would most likely be to “let me get the best that I possibly can for the available budget that I have - if not the best period”.
Fortune 500 corporations are not consciously going out and looking for the worst or looking for mediocrity. They are looking for the best. Some of the components of being the best are your subject matter expertise; your domain knowledge; and your ability to crystallize the value that your company offers within the context of the systems and processes of your customers. If you can show them how this saves them money, they will invite you to come back and offer you more opportunities.
Now that you have been perceived to be among best in class, there has to be evidence of it, so let me take you back to the late eighties - early nineties, then forward to today.
There have been four major systems initiatives put in place that, more than anything else, have helped external customers - and even internally within large corporations - start to get transparency around their systems and processes.
These initiatives allow companies to see what they can improve on, and quickly identify what's not working and how to fix it. That is the major purpose for setting up systems and processes.
First, you want repeatability - you want to be able to consistently deliver high quality and reliability in whatever is your output. Second, you want to be able to document it so that you can train people on what precisely and specifically needs to be done. Third, you want an audit trail of what happened so that when something doesn't work, you can get to a root cause quickly and then you can solve it for the system.
Even if the root cause is one off, you should be able to make an adjustment to the process to make sure that you preclude against that happening again. You additionally want to be able to represent to customers that you have your processes well-documented so that you can precisely solve any issues that arise.
If, and when something comes up, you are then in position to assure them that their processes, their systems, their product, their company are not put at risk based on something your company did or didn't have the ability to fix.
Quality - the first system initiative - began in the late eighties and early nineties. The developers of the quality initiative received the Malcolm Baldrige award because they had quality processes, controls and procedures in place that gave the most reliability, repeatability, a high level of quality customer service, and product features and benefits that didn't break down or tear up. That was followed with a global initiative - ISO 9,000 - and related programs.
Now imagine what that means. If for example you have an issue with lettuce recalls. The ISO process allows you to go back and identify most major things in the process where you can quickly locate something that went wrong and then quickly remedy it. So, both ISO and quality, with regard to documenting your process and knowing what came from where are huge, especially in an unfortunate situation. If you design these and do them right, then you have consistent, repeatable, predictable output on the end, which is what you really want once your business is humming.
The last two – Lean Manufacturing and six Sigma - are more of the same. They focus on eliminating errors. With the first two, clearly you wanted to eliminate errors. Lean and six Sigma just take it to another degree. You may have a quality process that allows you to have a 1% error rate. By the time you get to six Sigma, you might have a process that will get you down to a 0.01 or 0.001 or 0.0001 error rate. With these initiatives in place, you are able to deliver consistent, reliable, high quality products that customers can trust are going to do exactly what they were advertised and marketed to do.
Doing these things may sound difficult and complicated, but it really is not. Depending on where you are with your business, you can do simple things like jot down what your actual processes are, and that's going to be huge for you because as your revenues grow and you personally start exiting certain activities, you need to be able to hand things off to the people that you bring into the company. You can give them a procedures manual and it doesn't have to be 400 or 500 pages. The procedure can really and truly be five or six simple steps, but it's something that a new employee can read and know what's expected of them, and what they need to do. You can do that for every single process in your business.
You can do it for how you want mail handled. You can do it for how you want customer service calls handled; the timeframe in which you need to respond; what you need to collect in any service call; the information you need to collect e.g. order number, tracking ID, etc. You can actually hire companies that will send you procedures and manuals. You can do an internet search on procedures manuals for sale, and you can go to those websites where they will determine your industry and send you industry-specific procedures manuals. That becomes a huge plus for your business.
I want you to think of why it's huge. You, at this point, have probably seen a number of requests for information, and requests for proposals, (RFIs, RFPs) where you were asked about your process for ABC for example; your process for a customer complaint resolution; shipping notification; for handling onboarding new employees; new staff onto a project.
Now I can tell you, as somebody that has reviewed thousands and thousands and thousands of supplier responses, that there are some things that were obvious right off the bat. No, not those who have processes and procedures, and those who don't, but evaluating these RFP responses told me whether or not the company was actually ready to play.
Number one, I know that if you went through the investment of setting up processes and procedures you are serious about your business. Number two, you have a fundamental understanding of what it means to have repeatable outcomes in your business.
As I mentioned earlier, the primary reason for having systems and processes is for the purpose of having repeatable outcomes for which you can hold staff accountable. Did you do what the procedure called for? Not, are you making it up at each and every turn? Number three, it indicates to me that you have some idea of what my reality looks like, so that when I start communicating with you and I start talking about my processes and procedures as a corporate buyer, we should be able to achieve a quick resolution.
Now, that doesn't mean I'm married to processes and procedures because if there's an opportunity to improve upon them, I'm going to take it. However, having a conversation with somebody that understands the significance of them makes for a much easier conversation.
ISO, lean and six Sigma have to do with being the best. Having those things in place - whether you are starting up or whether you've been in the game for a while - means that you have done the work to be credible; to start having these kinds of conversations with the big companies; and you have the basic building blocks in place to have a business that they can insert into their operations and not really have to worry about. They don't have to worry as much because they can work with you and look at your processes and procedures, see how they overlay with theirs, and figure out how to make them work seamlessly. It gets you in the conversation of being the best. When they go and evaluate you, they can come back and say that in their due diligence they found processes and procedures that they believe can produce what was represented.
That brings us to the third item: what really goes on in the board room? What really happens there seems to be a mystery, but there is really nothing mysterious about it. The board room is very simple. The board room is where you make major decisions on issues that have come before you; or set strategy and direction for what you expect to come. You come to the boardroom with people who are supposed to be the experts in their field with the ability to do whatever it is they represent can be done.
You want experts in the field with a proven track record of getting things done, bringing the best information available so that effective decision making is achieved.
The board room is not one of those places where you go and bullshit. Now, cynically, I would say that if you've been in the boardroom for 20 years and bullshitting occurs, all right. However, the expectation is that a number of things have already occurred if you come in and make a presentation - especially for you as a supplier. Number one, you have the right to be there. Number two, what you are representing is indeed something that's possible. Number three, you are an expert in your field, and you have all available information to substantiate what you are representing.
This is not the opportunity to go in and overstate and misrepresent. If you are being yourself; you are being honest; you are being authentic and you have a proven track record, then there is really nothing intimidating about it.
Remember though that if your presentation does not get the order, that could be a blessing. Not all business is good business. When you are an expert in your field, you have a good idea of what will and won't work, and a lot of it comes from what you've done with other clients before you even got into the board room for the Fortune 500.
Therefore, there is nothing that should be intimidating. There is nothing that disadvantages any one person over the other person. The real issue is being the best - and being the best is huge. By understanding the significance of what it means to have proven processes and procedures and what that tells a corporation or a potential customer about you and your business savvy and knowledge of what it means to run a sustainable business, you are winning. Additionally, understanding why you are there; what it means when you walk into the boardroom ; what you are supposed to be bringing to the party; and the significance of whatever commitment you make further enhances your confidence.
We have covered why being the best is significant and what specifically you need to do in your business to get there, and it's really not hard work. You can actually purchase procedures manuals for different things. You can hire third parties to come in and help set up procedures for you, or you can have an internal initiative where you actually go through, audit your internal procedures, document exactly what you are doing and look for improvements.
Truth be told, Fortune 500 companies do this every day. They go through audit processes regularly, looking for opportunities for improvement when they bring in suppliers. What they are hoping for is that they can see some process optimization - if not a complete process elimination and improvement. That is what they are looking for and they are looking for the best to come in and help them and work with them.
Now we have covered being yourself and being the best. In the next blog we will discuss “deliver, deliver, deliver”. Once these three concepts and procedures are implemented, you should be “boardroom ready”.