Home » OPINION » Columns » PHIL HARDWICK — Five things learned and relearned this past year

PHIL HARDWICK — Five things learned and relearned this past year

PHIL HARDWICK

PHIL HARDWICK

As 2015 draws to a close I took some time to reflect on the year and consider some of the noteworthy things that I learned, relearned or were just reinforced during the past year. It is a random list, but one that most business people can relate to.

Organizational culture really matters

Organizational culture is often thought of as “the way we do things around here.” Some companies, such as Google (now Alphabet), pride themselves on their corporate cultures being like that of a startup company. Others tout their many years of existence and promote traditional values.

And then there is Volkswagen’s corporate culture. As we learn more about the scandal and the company it is obvious that the culture of VW played a part. VW had a rather unusual organizational structure, according to a Dec. 13, 2015, Wall Street Journal article titled, “The Engineering of Volkswagen’s Aggressive Ambition.” For example, all cars at headquarters must be parked facing the same way. VW’s management structure was described “confident, cutthroat and insular … and is coming under scrutiny as potentially enabling the lawbreaking behavior.” There is no doubt that the Volkswagen emissions software scandal will be one of the top national and international business stories of 2015

Schools can change a community

Local schools are generally a reflection of their communities. But this past year I discovered a community that has been, and is being changed, by the school. In other words, the community is a reflection of the schools. That community is Petal, and the school is the Petal School District. One of its community outreach programs is the Center for Families and Children. It doesn’t wait for children to enroll in school before engaging parents and children. It meets them soon after birth of the child. The list of resources and services provided is too long to list here, but it is comprehensive. In short, it is the school district that is taking the lead instead of relying on social service organizations.

Has it worked? Consider this community of just over 10,000 residents in Forrest County. Petal currently ranks as the safest or second safest city in Mississippi, depending on which ranking organization is used. The Petal School District is ranked in the top five high performing districts. Petal was also named the Best Town in Mississippi for Young Families based on the quality of the public schools, cost of living, growth and prosperity, by NerdWallet.com. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that the high school football team is one of the best in the state.

‘Built to sell’ may be replacing ‘built to last’ 

“Built to Last,” the best-selling book by Jim Collins, looked at companies that have been around a long time and the characteristics that made them successful. It’s a highly recommended text for anyone in business. But I sense that something is changing when it comes to the overall aspirations of entrepreneurs and business owners. It happened shortly after a conference in which entrepreneurs pitched their companies’ plans to a group of experienced business owners who were serving as judges. In the audience were venture capitalists on the lookout for good investments. Afterward, one of the judges told me that he was struck by the fact that each of the top five winners planned to grow their business to the point that they could sell it. After hearing that, I began surveying my management students and new entrepreneurs about their plans. For the most part, I got the same result.

Customer service still matters 

Like most people I had some really good and not-so-good customer service experiences during the past year. The most memorable not-so-good occurrences were with my cable company and my mobile phone providers. Not surprising, given that my (current) cable television company came in at Number One in the 2015 Yahoo Customer Service Hall of Shame.

My best customer service experience of the year was with SBB, part of the Swiss Federal Railways System. During a trip to Switzerland and Italy this summer I had the dreaded experience of losing my passport at the airport in Zurich. It was during the train trip to downtown that I made the discovery. I deduced that it must be on the train or somewhere at the airport. You can imagine my semi-panic and dread. I later learned that I had dropped it while purchasing train tickets to downtown from the airport.

My wife and I returned to the airport and retraced our steps with eyes wide open. I went to the Swiss Rail counter, and was directed to the Swiss Rail Lost and Found. I described my passport case and contents and gave my contact information in the event it was ever discovered. The clerk checked in the back room and returned with my passport case, which included not only my passport but several hundred U.S. dollars. With a sigh of relief, I checked and found that everything, including the cash, was still there. Upon arrival at our hotel a few hours later I checked my email and discovered this:

“Good afternoon Mr. Hardwick. Your wallet with Passport, Business cards and (money)  has been found near a Ticket machine at Zurich Airport. Is it possible for you to pick it up at Lost an found Swiss Railway at Zurich Airport?. We are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Best regards

Ursi”

Finally, relationships matter

Even in this technologically efficient age, it’s reassuring to know that relationships matter. This past year I did some email, direct mail and social media marketing of my services. There were a few successes because of that, but most of my business came from word of mouth from those with whom I had developed relationships.

I invite you to take a moment and look back at things learned this past year. And I wish you much success in the coming year.

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.

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