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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Learning from the best

I went to business school (still going, actually, working on my MBA), have read many books on management and business, have years of management experience, and now I advise and consult with businesses. So I probably know a few things about management and business. I find, though, that I have new teachers now, and it’s the best learning experience I’ve had.

I’m finishing up my next book, and part of what I’m doing is interviewing business owners and executives for inclusion in the book. I’m not a professional interviewer. I don’t do any real research on the people I interview and I don’t have a list of prepared questions. I’m not a researcher, so I don’t have any prepared surveys or questionnaires. What I do is let the person know what the book is about, what topics I cover, then just ask them to describe how they’ve become successful and how they manage their business in relations to the Operations side of things.

The first thing I’ve learned is that these successful executives and entrepreneurs are very passionate about their business and how they’ve achieved their success. This is without ego, just passion for what they do and how they’ve achieved it. It’s very inspiring. And because they are so passionate, they have plenty to say. So instead of trying to think up questions, I just let them go in whatever direction they lead themselves, the areas that they find most important or are most proud of. I do pick up on particular things and ask them to expand on that or to tell me more about how they do that, but in general, they lead the conversation.

I find this method to be much more educational and eye-opening than if I tried to control and direct the questioning to particular topics that I’m more interested in or that fit in better with a particular section of the book. Asking pointed questions will get you pointed answers, but that might not reveal the real reasons for the success of the organization. The real reason for success comes from the passion and the leadership at the top.

The second thing I’ve learned is that these leaders have a very clear vision for the culture of the organization, and it reflects their personal beliefs. But the culture is fostered, not forced, and well-defined steps are taken to promote and develop the culture that allows the organization to succeed. Plans are made, guidance is given, but the people are given latitude and are encouraged to grow and develop within the cultural framework.

To learn more, you’ll have to read the book. I’ll be learning more as I continue to conduct these interviews. If you know of a successful organization that shows excellence in their Operations, please provide me a contact so I can talk to them and we can all learn from them.