Protect What You’re Good At

My husband and I recently went out to one of our favorite local hole-in-the-walls. You know those neighborhood bar and grills – warm, cozy, friendly, everybody knows your name? Well, this isn’t one of those places.

It doesn’t necessarily look like the kind of place that you’d want to go inside but they do two things really well at this establishment: really good food, and friendly service. They don’t spend a nickel on the décor, but if you’re a regular (or even an occasional regular like we are) they know your order when you walk in the door, and bring a drink over to you as soon as you sit down.

As a self-proclaimed chicken wing connoisseur, my husband loves this place. He has officially graded the service as “awesome”, and I have to agree that it’s not a horrible business model… unless you mess up your only two competitive advantages—and on this particular night, they did. Once I got over my disappointment, I reflected on the situation and connected it to my own work and how devastated I would be if any of our clients were treated as poorly as we were. So, here are my lessons learned.

Protect what you’re good at.

Organizations must be able to rely on the strength of their competitive advantages to attract clients, funders, employees and all other stakeholders. In this case, the restaurant put their competitive advantages at risk. Repeatedly doing this will result in a lack of confidence in this establishment with no reason for us to return. It’s key for any business to identify, quantify and effectively manage any threats and risksto your competitive advantage in advance. Being proactive in this process will make all the difference when an issue does arise. In the nonprofit sector, a strong governance structure is key to effectively managing any threats and sets the tone for building a strong culture throughout the organization.

If you mess up, don’t hide it… admit it.

Imagine Canada holds their accredited organizations to the highest standards, two being transparency and accountability. In this case, our waitress was not honest when telling us that the kitchen was behind in their orders and we later found out that she didn’t even put our order in. She was unaccountable for her actions and untruthful in her explanation. She blamed others for her mistakes. Any great leaders will tell you that leading by example and admitting mistakes will benefit the entire organization. Culture starts at the top, so ensure your staff knows that they can fix mistakes and not bury them.

Fix it and fix it big.

After waiting for over an hour, another waitress finally came to investigate the problem. She immediately jumped into action. Those of us who had received meals and drinks got them for free and she was very apologetic for the lack of service. We were relieved that we finally received attention and compensation. In a healthy organization, being courageous enough to act quickly will mitigate any damage to your organization’s brand and reputation. Know who the subject experts are on your team so that when an issue occurs, they can be empowered to jump into action to solve the problem quickly. In this case, the manager should have prepped and empowered the senior staff to have a keen eye on the new waitress and provide support to her and the customers if needed. A team approach is much more efficient in proactively finding solutions.

Empower your management team.

Ensure that your management team is fully trained on how to look for and deal with these scenarios. Invest in your entire team, but also focus on giving your senior staff the tools to jump in and make effective decisions. Help them to feel comfortable and ready to tackle any situation that arises. In this way, it’s more likely that you’ll keep your competitive advantage and your clients happy.

No one can get everything right all the time. But if you focus on the most important factors, your core values and your competitive advantages, the other stuff tends to fall into place. It shouldn’t be a secret what your organization’s competitive advantages are. Let your staff know what they are and how to protect them, and you will keep clients, stakeholders, and donors coming back year after year.