peter_switzer.jpgThis year on the business speaking circuit I have been sharing with my audiences a speech called Taking Your Business from Good to Great. Most of the insights are very relevant to anyone wanting to bolster the calibre of the processes that underpin their business. A big business differs from a small business on the crucial matter of systems – both the number and the quality of those systems. A big business is often simply a small business done right! A business is just a system of systems, where the quality of the business is determined by the value of the systems. The calibre of the systems will progress as you take your business from good to great. But where do you start?

A few years back I published a book titled 350 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, which by its very name tells you the case studies of great businesses gave me 350 ways to grow a business. We broke up the 350 tips into key categories: staff, management and business strategies, customers, goals and maxims, products and services, and leadership. These were the key sources of growth. Under management and business strategies, we covered important business-saving practices such as cash flow management, setting budgets and creating key performance indicators to see if the business was heading towards the owners’ vision.

These are important foundations for great businesses, and before I had actually grown an operation with more than 15 employees and a team of contractors, I thought better process implementation, along with wonderful marketing, were the keys to creating a high-growth operation. And I still do – but I don’t think they will, alone, turn a good business into a great business. A key ingredient to take your business up to the next level is your leadership. Think about some of the great name operations in this country in recent years and tell me the leaders. Gerry Harvey goes with Harvey Norman. John Symond pairs up indispensably with Aussie Home Loans. And then there’s the best international example of Richard Branson and the Virgin brand.

Over the years I have interviewed the greats of Australian and international business for The Australian or for my Talking Business program on Qantas. It has included the likes of General Electric’s Jack Welch to Branson to Paul Cave of Bridge- Climb fame – and they have never told me the vital key to their companies’ success! A rash person might accuse them of lying, but in fact it was modesty. Not even Welch, who was a very upfront, feisty character, would ever say, “My leadership!”, when I asked why GE did so well.

But this would be the most accurate answer. I recently met the famous US leadership expert John Maxwell. He is the author of Leadership Gold and many other books on the subject. He argues, “leadership, above all, is courageous”. You have to confront yourself – your strengths and your weaknesses. The new thinking from leadership experts is (and I love this advice): play to your strengths and make your weaknesses irrelevant. Maxwell says you have to lead yourself first and then develop and lead your people so they work in their strength zone. I took this on board at a recent workshop I did for a group of business owners with direct salespeople – many of whom were Gen Y, who were seen as being challenging to work with.

I kicked off by describing what the experts say about the Gen Y. Most were well aware of their “bad” points and were surprised about some of the “good” ones, but they were more surprised at my recommendations to get the best out of them. First, I asked if anyone thought that Gen Ys would wake up one morning and decide to change off their own bat? No-one believed that would happen. And next I asked: “So, who has to change first?” The answer was obvious – the leader has to lead and do the changing first! In the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, it is no coincidence that after looking at the best US companies between 1975 and 2000 and working out why they did so well, he started with – you guessed it – leadership. The greats of Aussie growth businesses were great leaders who not only grew businesses but also grew people – that includes staff and customers!

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