A few years ago, Terry was in the lucky position of being able to employ 4 new people early on in the life of his dry cleaning business in Bristol. He got their job descriptions clear, worked on bonding the team, consulted on the vision and devised a plan for the following three years which was to drive the business into the land of milk and honey.
His efforts to develop a listening and consulting culture were so effective that everyone cheerfully added their thr’pence on every conceivable decision: the office biscuits, the colour of the reception furniture and whether or not the vision of the company was the right one at all.
A couple of staff were unimpressed with the dry cleaning business and thought the company should move into website design, as after all, they argued, the Internet was where everything was at those days – and dry cleaning was a bit of a specialist field that wasn’t that interesting to them and which they didn’t really get anyway.
Terry listened to their views which were persuasively put with some sympathy, trying as he did to listen to all view points at all times.
Trouble is though, that in listening to everyone around him, he turned down the volume on listening to his own multiple voices which were also looking at things from all angles – his 360 degree voices – but which were ultimately urging him to specialise further in the dry cleaning business as this would have given him a unique advantage in the market.
He reached a critical moment where the opportunity for a business development grant meant that the company had to decide whether it diversified into website design or continued to specialise in dry cleaning. The external voices all around him yelled ‘diversify’; his own 360 degree voices whispered ‘specialise’.
It was a hard decision to take as there were compelling arguments on both sides and he finally agreed to listen to those louder, external voices and invested the grant into an impressive suite of computer hard and software as opposed to the more specialised kit required to improve his core dry cleaning business.
Now of course, a couple of years later when the digital world became completely inundated, Terry has found himself with a pile of obsolete computer kit which he can’t use as the skills needed to implement the diversification didn’t come in the computer boxes. Lots of nice shiny aluminium boxes and glossy software downloads – but no skills.
The advantage he had in the dry cleaning has been lost as others have stepped into that market place and he now finds himself back at square one having to reinvent the business from scratch.
The staff who weren’t interested in dry cleaning have long since left the business taking their noisy opinions with them; and it’s only now, 3 years on has he realised that those 360 degree voices in his head were right all along. His core business should have been refined even further with that grant; not become confused by well meaning pragmatic attempts to respond to a foreign market place.
It’s been a tough lesson to learn – and hindsight is always everyone’s best friend – but it will at least mean that phase two of the business will be driven by the multiple voices in Terry’s head and not the competing caterwauling of well intentioned colleagues.