For pretty much all of the 30+ years that I’ve been in business, I have employed the power of collaboration.
Before I did what I do now, I ran an engineering business based in Kent. It was my family business, I was the fourth generation of my family to work in it, and I started there when I was I was just 19 years old. Now, many of the other people that worked there had literally seen me born and grow up - some of them had even baby sat me over the years – so, although I did have some automatic authority which came with being the son of the owner, I figured that just trying to put that to work in my new job might not get me very far.
I’d spent quite a bit of time hanging out around the business as I was growing up, and fortunately I’d worked out that the vast majority of the people working there knew a great deal more than I did about how to make it work and, perhaps more importantly, how to make it not work. As a consequence, I recognised that If I started trying to manage them with some kind of autocratic “I’m the boss’s son, do what I say” kind of attitude, they were likely to find a way to give a clear demonstration of my shortcomings, and make my life really difficult! Of course, it did help that I knew these people well, and also liked them, so I needed to find some other form of management approach.
The approach I adopted instead of going around telling everyone what to do (I didn’t know anyway), was to try to get the best out of them - to tap into their skills, knowledge and abilities, and to help them make the best of themselves, for our mutual benefit.
To some this may sound like a really obvious thing to do, but I can assure you that over the years I’ve observed enough managers, at all levels and in all sizes of business, to know that vast numbers simply don’t do it! They direct and demand rather than employing the gentle art of persuasion.
One definition of persuasion that I really like is “getting others to want to do, what you want them to do.” Essentially, this is what I was developing skill in all those years ago. It sparked a lifelong interest in how you can do that ethically and effectively, and grew beyond the day-to-day management of my family business, into a set of practices that I have used over the years, and now help others to develop and use, for building successful businesses.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Collaboration as “working jointly”. At its simplest level, this is all I am talking about – working jointly both inside (with colleagues, employees, co-workers etc.) and outside (with suppliers, customers, suppliers of complementary goods and services and even competitors) to make your business work, create opportunities for growth and success, and make your life easier!
I have been practicing this myself, and helping others practice it, for long enough to know categorically that it works.
There are huge swathes of evidence out there to demonstrate that it works. I remember attending a conference about 15 years ago where Richard Branson was speaking. The comment he made which still sticks in my mind was “There are three groups of people who are important to my business – my employees, my customers and my suppliers, and that is the order I place them in, because I know that if I look after the first group, they will look after the others.” You can only truly apply that approach in a business run on the principles of collaboration.
Branson is a master of collaboration and has built the Virgin Group though collaborating with other businesses – almost all of his most successful companies are Joint Ventures; leveraging the best aspects of Virgin and the other business(es) involved to produce something far greater than the individual parts.
In future blogs I will be saying more about the what and how of Business Collaboration, for now, though, just start to explore where you can collaborate, and I promise you will start to get bigger and better results in your business.
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