Technology has changed the business environment so rapidly that we have to continuously challenge our assumptions about how we will serve customers, manage employees and remain competitive. We are now officially part of the “knowledge economy” that management guru Peter Drucker began predicting in 1959: a place where information is currency, business models are always evolving and employees often know more about customers and products than their supervisors.
As managers, it seems that much of what we’ve been taught about how to succeed and motivate our teams is obsolete. As fast as things change, however, some of the old school wisdom still applies. Here are a few tips from leaders of the past that have stood the test of time.
- “He who stops being better stops being good.”– Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
The slide rule and cuckoo clock were high-tech inventions of this British military leader’s time, but his advice is even more relevant today. In a dynamic environment, we must continually look for new information that will help us be more efficient and effective. Are there new tools, strategies or technologies that need to be deployed? Are competitors doing something faster, cheaper or better? If you’re from Texas, Remember the Alamo. Everyone else, remember IBM.
- “A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.” – Michael LeBoeuf (Born 1942)
This author and management professor retired before most people had access to the Internet, but he understood that happy customers will always be the key to business success. He may not have predicted, however, how much technology would empower customers and increase their expectations. To satisfy internal and external customers, we must tailor products and services to individual needs, respond immediately to service requests and offer faster, more convenient delivery options. Technology has raised the bar in customer satisfaction.
- “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter Drucker (1909-2005)
By the time email and texting were commonplace, the father of modern management was 90 years old – but his advice is perfect for our time. When we’re communicating digitally, we miss out on nonverbal reactions. Listening to what people say and being intuitive about what they don’t tell us is something we can all work on to be more effective. Don’t wait for the satisfaction survey to come out – ask questions, listen, and look for clues that will help you uncover problems (and identify successes) early on.
- “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffett (Born 1930)
Now that everyone is armed with a smartphone, business and personal ethics are more important. In the age of social media, customers and employees can share their experiences with the world in an instant. Buffet also said, “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. Because if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
- “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”– Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965)
Even though he was probably talking about the challenges of war, Churchill’s words remind us that our world is changing so fast that even our definitions of success and failure must be revised. Business models become outdated, industries rise and fall, we adapt or perish. We have even come to expect our careers to hit a roadblock or change course at least once or twice. No one is immune from disruption, and the best thing we can do is to be prepared. See #1.
- “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” – Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
This is valid wisdom from a guy who was never Old School. I like this quote because it shows that even though Steve Jobs helped bring about a technology revolution that has replaced much of our face-to-face communications, he was still a believer in the human spirit and the power of collaboration. He famously redesigned the Pixar offices so that animators, programmers and executives would frequently run into, and hopefully learn from, each other. The value of teamwork will never go out of style.