Can a strong business acumen be taught by teachers and/or professors?

Sure we need the academics in our world, I’m not questioning that. My question is more around whether this theory focused cohort can really teach our children how to apply years of infinite theory into practice, once they enter the workforce? Once they graduate, do our children have the confidence to truly immerse themselves into any working environment (physically, emotionally and intellectually)?

Rather than wrapping our children in cotton wool we should shift our focus on enabling our children to transition into our communities armed with more than just theory. We need to teach them how to apply all that knowledge into practice. To experiment, to have a go at being responsible for more than just completing their homework on time or acing a test.

So how does one develop a strong business mindset? That unpredictable grasp of supply and demand without some serious knowledge transfer from those who have failed and/or succeeded before us?

I am not ruling out a good education but I have certainly observed over the past 20 years that those who finish an apprenticeship are more likely to develop their interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, efficiency and customer focus as a result of being thrown into the thick of things through a practical hands on approach, rather than theorising what could, should, would or didn’t happen.

Imagine if you had an entrepreneur as your teacher/mentor to guide you and transfer that wealth of knowledge acquired as a result of either failures or successes, as both are equally important lessons.

My only squabble with schools and universities is that they teach us to do much of the same though theoretical examples of how things should be done, to blend in with the majority. Whereas entrepreneurs teach us to push the boundaries, to think differently and become unique in our own way. This attribute creates strong survival instincts that go beyond theorising. This attribute delivers results so that you can improve in real time rather than speculate based on ‘majority rules’ and/or ‘statistics’.

Schools and universities need to engage the services of successful entrepreneurs in order to truly prepare our up and coming leaders of the 21st century. To give them the confidence to make decisions regardless of success or failure.

An honest mistake

Picture what could have been a glorious Sunday sleep in, blown into the abyss thanks to a communication breakdown with my daughter’s tennis coach.  Yep not one to hold grudges (much) I got the cancellation half way to the tennis club. Wide awake I decided to surprise my sister with a visit and to top it off, grabbed us takeaway coffees from Zarraffas. Fast forward to the late afternoon when I decided to check my account balance (my usual Sunday ritual) to see how much money I’d blown over the weekend.

To my surprise I notice a transaction from Zarraffas for $200 and nearly fell off my chair!! What the heck…no bloody way they charged me $200 instead of $20. Yep I flipped my lid, jumped into the car and headed back to Zarraffas. As I approached the window, there were two cars in front of me. As I got closer to the window I recognised the woman that served me earlier in the morning. Once I was pretty much at the window, she decided to swap windows with her colleague. I said to the young girl …no I don’t think so, please get your colleague over to my window. As the woman approached me she says to me before I could even say a word…it was an honest mistake…I saw the receipt. Ok I said, so why are you trying to dodge me then? Why didn’t you come after me once you saw the receipt?

Anyway I said….since it’s an honest mistake, you’ll have no trouble refunding my money. And then the bomb shell….yes an honest mistake but I can’t help you with the refund. You will have to come back tomorrow when my manager is in to authorise the refund. That is our policy as all our accounts are processed via our head office. GREAT….here we go, let the games begin!

My response…..I don’t think so! The same way your manager authorises you to take my money… are authorised to refund my money, especially when you take an extra $180 for goods worth only $20. I, the customer do not pay the consequence of your mistake. You have already inconvenienced me by me having to come back to you so here’s my policy….either you refund me my money right now or I call the police and have you charged with theft. Her response again…but I’m not authorised. So I said ok if you cannot refund the money back to my card then you will have to give me cash. She rolled her eyes with a huge amount of sympathy…NOT and I stood my ground and said I’m not leaving here without my money. She walked off with my bank card, came back and said here’s $200 cash and gave me back my bank card. Now how did we go from no…cannot give you a refund to giving me back my money and shouting me coffee? How? By speaking with confidence and challenging the status quo! Sure it’s not easy to do, it does require grit and determination (thinking outside the box) but you must stand up for what you believe is right.

The moral of my story…yes we all make honest mistakes (I can accept that) but business owners need to ensure their policies support the customer experience as opposed to penalising the customer for an employee’s mistake. This requires formally training your employees to remedy such mistakes on the spot. It is utterly unacceptable to take someone’s money against their will (essentially commit fraud) and default or pass the buck onto another staff member/management to resolve. Such incidents require an immediate response, end of discussion.

The lesson for me, don’t be too trustworthy, always ask for a receipt and check the damn receipt to make sure I don’t get overcharged for a purchase.

Why challenging the status quo is critical to any business environment

Challenging the status quo in a business environment is no different to an individual and/or lawyer challenging existing regulation or legislation practice.  In the same way that Judges have been known to hand down wrong decisions, so have leaders by implementing rigid systems/protocols without regular review to ensure its relevance and/or need to adapt.

Instead we end up training our employees to literally engage in robotic behaviour …..either it ticks the box or you (the customer) are out. As opposed to looking at each situation on an individual basis, on its own merit and thinking critically whether in fact the system/protocol requires adjusting to accommodate a change in environment or more importantly a change in customer needs.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong advocate of compliance practices and have seen the benefits in adopting such practices, but there has to be a balance. Compliance practices need to be challenged and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure relevance in the current business environment. Compliance isn’t just about conformity, it’s about respect for others and accountability. Leaders need to embrace another perspective by encouraging their employees to speak up and challenge the status quo which is critical in today’s ever changing business environment. Having a workforce that challenges ideas is paramount as it ensures robust discussions are put on the table, fosters critical thinking, challenges your own thought process and most importantly, it generates momentum and gets everyone involved.

Does your organisation encourage you to think outside the box?

Are you smothered by red tape in your organisation?  Do you or can you speak up about it?