When I was a young man I loved oil painting. I would spend hours in front of the canvas, perfecting the subtle details. It took me years of painting to understand the scope of the commitment it takes to create something truly great. It’s one thing to know paint selection and mixing are important, its another to invest the effort it takes to learn to do them well. Talented artisans bring that same level of commitment to everything they do, day in and day out. Crafting something like artisans requires imagination, care, and expertise, and as I’ve aged I’ve realized that the same is true when it comes to business. We must take the time to slow things down and recommit ourselves to fostering a company culture of creativity and service—or risk the quality of our art.
To do this we need to remember why we got in to the business in the first place. We also need to rekindle in our company culture what it means to serve. For me, the original reason was the idea of helping others. I remember the excitement I felt when I could solve a tax issue or fix a computer for someone, and how grateful they were for my help. The sense of deep gratification about who I was and what I did was exhilarating. Don’t let moments like that go by unnoticed in your firm, share and celebrate them with your staff. Over the years I honed my skills and created a number of small businesses— each one centered on helping others. Taking note of my commitment to service, many of my clients began referring me, and my businesses grew. Now thirty years later I still find myself deeply concerned with encouraging creativity and maintaining commitment to service at OfficeTools, but I know if we are willing to ask the hard questions and set corrective policy then we can succeed. Questions like, “Are we hitting the mark for every one of our clients?” and “What can we do in the future to help more/help better?” Bringing a sense of artisanship into our daily work means aligning our understanding of quality and value such that the greater quality of work we achieve the more valuable we are, both as a business and to our clients. To apply this in a practical way, I have laid our a roadmap to help firms create and serve like artisans.
Good business owners, and employees for that matter, never stop learning. Be sure you and your team attend educational conferences and webinars. Spend time at one technology and one practice management conference annually. By doing this you will be armed with new ideas and successful processes that can change your firm, and you’ll give your staff the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Get your entire team together and have annual reviews of systems, processes and procedures. Figure out where the broken parts are and how to fix them. Don’t try to do it all yourself, you need the perspectives and creativity of your leadership team to succeed. If you have implemented some new ideas or technology in the previous year, it will be natural that your processes and procedures will change. Be sure to evaluate those changes and give yourself progress reports on the implementations.
All the reflection in the world won’t do you any good if it doesn’t produce change. Firm ownership and leadership need to commit to an ongoing process of improvement, and communicate that commitment to the firm at large through tangible signs of “buying-in”. That doesn’t just mean showing up to meetings and putting on a good face, it means leading the way in addressing issues identified in review process even when the solution isn’t your idea/ preference. If you drag your feet, so will your employees, and the problem stays right where it is.
Grab someone you trust and have them go through the “firm experience”. Onboard them just like you would a normal client and then ask for their feedback. We often think more highly of our service than we ought to, and an honest opinion could help. At the same time, be sure that your digital presence is at the highest level. Do not let a family member or friend design your website unless that is their primary vocation. Be sure that your client’s digital experience is phenomenal. And while you’re at, make sure their physical experience is phenomenal as well. Get an interior designer to help with your office appearance, especially your lobby. Maybe a little remodel is in the cards.
Good things take time. This is also true with your team. Be willing to groom them, slowly if necessary, into the professional service provider you want them to be. Be patient with your work. Take time to insure the quality is at its highest. If you are struggling to get quality work out in a timely manner, then maybe it’s time to raise your fees, allowing for a better quality of work and service.
Not every idea is perfect for your firm and not every execution will be successful. Don’t be the one that gets knocked off the horse and doesn’t get back on. I have had many failures in business, with clients and with my team. This has only taught me more about how to succeed. “Try, try again” is my motto.
Artisanship will instill in the culture of your firm a dedication to quality and service that clients’ can feel. It’s the difference between an impersonal, uncaring experience clients might describe as “corporate” or “cookie-cutter, and a hands-on, consultative relationship where your clients know their best interests are protected. The principles described above can get you started, but the real challenge is to begin to reimagine how you see yourself. Seeing yourself as an artisan changes your relationship to your clients, your employees, and to your business in general because everything is cast in the light of your ongoing commitment to integrity and quality.