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Harsh (Consultant, India) August 2006

Hi ! How can one balance one's urge to grow fast and big and the will to deliver 'quality' to internal and external customers and stake holders, even at the cost of remaining small as an organisation. Is it possible to be the best and "world class"and do what you really want to do, despite being small (in revenue and profits) ?

Regards,
Harsh, Consultant, India

Dear Harsh,

The simple but true answer to your question is yes! Not only is it possible for small companies to be world-class as you put it, but it is absolutely necessary for them to be world-class. If the small organization dreams of being in the big league, it needs to immerse itself in the culture of being big. It might be easier for large and financially strong organizations to operate due to their access and availability to a diverse pool of resources. But even large and resourceful organizations are not immune from losing what they’ve acquired throughout the years. If any organization, big or small, moves away from foundational principles of quality, ethical service to customers, respect for societal-cultural norms, continuous creative innovation, and meeting the unique needs of the market, they are at risk of eventually losing out big time. Does Enron ring a bell? They were “big” but where are they now?

If you think small, you’ll stay that way. Aim higher and you’ll get higher, even though you are bound to fail the first few tries. Like a person, the only thing that stops a small organization from actualizing its potential, is fear. You’ve specifically asked about how we can balance being small vs. promoting quality in work. The key to this balancing act is learning how to overcome fear with a positive attitude, and incorporating this attitude with the skill of sound business leadership. You must have vision, a realistic business plan, and strategies that are unique to give you the best possible results for propelling your business to grow. But you’ve all this heard this before, these aren’t new ideas. So what of the reality of small businesses?

Realistically speaking, small businesses have restricted choices as to what resources they invest in. But if management teams running small businesses have the positive energy to think big and aim high, they can use this situation to their advantage. Restricted choices should force small businesses to make informed choices. In a small business, you need to make the best choice possible as a result of more awareness, more learning, more patience, more discipline, and more exciting risk. This means choosing to create just one product of the highest level of quality and customer satisfaction, instead of choosing to produce 1000 products that would get you revenue in the short run but a loss of loyal customers in the long run, all because you compromised on a few teenie weenie “quality issues”. Have the courage to make the right choices. Create the best you can to satisfy one customer fully. Do not be tempted by short-term profit, selling more low-quality product to a larger number of customers in a shorter time. Your customers will simply stop coming in. There is no excuse for compromising on quality because it is the make or break in any business, let alone a small business. High quality reflects high values and respect for customers, who are people like you and me.

Coming to the practical goal of maintaining quality, managers of small businesses must commit to doing the job themselves. They must set quality standards, criteria for optimal performance, and a commitment culture in the organization for future employees, and reinforce these standards as part of core beliefs of the company. If you strive to deliver genuine ethical service, and care to connect with each customer in a way that makes them come back to you, I guarantee that your customer base will grow, and so will your business. But always remember that more than money it takes time, courage, and patience for small businesses to undergo metamorphosis. I would therefore suggest discarding the illusory belief that you can grow overnight while still maintaining optimal quality. Be ready for a slow and bumpy ride at first, and be mindful of tantalizing short-cuts that invite you to fall deep into a ditch.

For me, every organization’s strategic objectives might be different, but there is one goal that if achieved, will guarantee success: ethical treatment of internal and external customers, and stakeholders. Philosophically speaking, quality must always be derived from principles of ethics. Business success has no secret! The foundation of quality lies in a very simple logic based on universal truths about people and what they respond to. I can write a book or two on this, but the main idea is that your best interest in conducting your business should be primarily to meet the best interests of everyday people. (I know you’re thinking “ethics in business?! yea right”) Essentially the products and services you provide, through your small or large organization, need to help each customer achieve her/his own goals for the purpose of her/his success. Get to know your customers, what they really want, see what’s being offered to them by others, and set your quality standards according to what is required for them to be successful in their life.

Your ethical responsibility to provide high-quality should outweigh your will to grow “fast and big”. Go beyond customer service and aim for customer success.

 


 
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