The Pulse

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A few years ago, Michael Burrows, CEO of Maple Lodge Farms – an Ontario, Canada-based poultry product processor – met a fellow executive from a similar company at a food industry conference. The two started to chat and quickly realized they had great ideas to bounce off one another.

Shortly after the conference, Burrows invited the executive and several C-suite level members of his European-based firm to Canada for a three-day idea-sharing session. Together, the two companies – who were not in direct competition with each other – discussed approaches to production output, metrics measurement, strategic planning and various other aspects of their businesses. 

The meeting’s mandate: To be completely transparent, sharing concepts in the spirit of mutual development and improvement. The meetings were such a success that the European company invited Burrows and his executive team across the pond for a similar set of sessions. 

“It’s a relationship built on total transparency,” said Burrows on the arrangement. “We help each other be the best we can be. The journey of shared learning has continued to this day.” 

Upon reflection, this idea of two major corporations sharing in a trans-Atlantic mind-meld should force us to ponder: Would your company open itself up to sharing ideas with a likeminded organization? How committed is your business to the principle of lifelong learning?

According to Peter Brown, a partner at Deloitte Private, many companies are afraid of the kind of mutual brain-racking that Maple Lodge Farms participated in with their European colleagues.

“There’s a natural fear a lot of companies have to do something like that because, firstly, doing so would involve a lot of work and thinking, and secondly, they fear they’d come up short,” said Brown.

However, the best companies in the world, whether large, medium or small, share this one common trait: The constant hunger to do and be better. 

A refusal to surrender to complacency results in smarter strategic planning, improved operations, a more engaged corporate culture and robust financial performance.

Ask for advice

The most successful businesses in the marketplace aren’t merely open to outside feedback – they strive to develop codified processes to seek this feedback out. Whether it be through scheduled exchanges with other businesses, working with paid professional consultants or developing and maintaining an external advisory board, it is pivotal to gather relevant external advice to help your organization improve and grow.

By accumulating unbiased, honest and constructive assessments of your organization, you can refine everything from your high-level strategy to the gritty, day-to-day minutiae.

In the world of writing, it’s often good practice to have someone else edit your work – they see the typos, the errors in syntax and the lapses in clarity. So it is in business too – getting another set of eyes to analyze your business is often the best way to gather the information necessary to make the right decisions.

Look outside your direct market

It’s also important to search beyond your own backyard. With the rapid rise of eCommerce and social media, very few businesses have an exclusively local market. Of course, having a national or global presence is not a requirement for success, but having a wider scope of networks and insights can help you stand out. Share ideas with a similar business across the country, attend an industry conference or develop a Rolodex of mentors with whom you can brainstorm ideas.

Exposing yourself to the different types and tiers of competitors in the marketplace can’t help but up your company’s game – this can create a virtuous circle that helps your business improve and become more focused. 

Revel in risk

Any great business is well-acquainted with risk-taking. Whether you’re investing in emerging technologies, tapping into new markets, embracing bold new ideas and services or revamping your organization with a more relevant, modern structure, saying no to the status quo can push your business forward.

By making smart bets around innovation and risk-taking, you set yourself apart in an increasingly competitive modern marketplace. The one thing that defines successful organizations in today’s business world: They don’t just survive amid inevitable disruption – rather, they align themselves with likeminded businesses, accept change and adapt to it while thriving in the process. 

Go from “good enough” to positive discontent

A company like Maple Lodge Farms is at the top of its industry – but Burrows wasn’t comfortable stopping there. He adopted a perspective of continual growth in order to extend his company’s reach on their market. In your business, being positively discontented can fuel you to reach your final level of accomplishment. By using feedback from others, as well as honest self-analysis, you can evaluate your successes and failures and use those lessons to get better.

Take an analytical approach to your business evaluation. What worked? Do more of it. What didn’t work? Understand why. What could have worked better? Figure out how. These questions will lead you to useful information.

Go from performing to perfecting

For any business owner or executive committed to continual improvement, perfection is always the goal even when we understand it’s never ultimately possible. But striving for perfection helps us improve our business – the best aim higher than the rest.

In his book Mastery, George Leonard points out that improvement isn’t a linear line, but rather a series of steps. You improve your business, keep working, but naturally plateau temporarily once you reach the next step of progression. It may seem like your business is not getting better, when suddenly – by accumulating feedback, embracing disruption and adapting to the newest industry changes – another improvement occurs. By adopting lifelong learning as a practice in your business, you can confidently take the next step.

In the end, you need to be realistic when it comes to the improvement and growth of your organization. An optimist looks at the glass half full, while the pessimist looks at the glass half empty. But these assessments miss the mark: There is always room for more.

This article is based off of information from a March 2019 article by Deborah Aarts from Canadian Business, as well as an excerpt from George Leonard's 1992 book Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.

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