Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Are Squeeky Windscreen Wipers Spoiling Your Ferrari?

I saw a re-run of Top Gear recently in which Clarkson was dashing across Europe in a brand new, top of the range Ferrari (a 612 Scaglietti if you’re interested). As you might imagine Clarkson was waxing lyrically about the poise, power, style, and general brilliance of this Ferrari, and yet despite all of these amazing qualities he was not enjoying his time with this Ferrari at all. In fact it was driving him mad in his usual animated way. Why? Because of one small but significant and very irritating problem: squeaky windscreen wipers.

Clarkson's frustrating experience got me thinking about a business that I know and love which in most respects is in a class of its own. They are the Ferrari of their sector and are recognised as the leader by their competitors. Except that quite often when I use them I am left irritated and disappointed by a problem that their otherwise inferior competitors do not inflict upon their customers. Why, I wonder, do your competitors avoid this problem, and yet you who are superior to them in every other respect force me to suffer this irritation? Why don't you fix your “squeaky windscreen wipers”?

But of course this is not the only business to suffer from “squeaky windscreen wipers”: a persistent weakness that undermines the best they have to offer. One company I know provides its customers with product quality that is surpassed only by their ability to respond in the blink of an eye to their customers' requirements. However, the way that incoming calls are handling is shoddy and means that they, like Clarkson's Ferrari, spoil their customers' experience.

I've worked in companies in which a whole department was a “squeaky windscreen wiper”. You've heard of the Sales Prevention Officer, well these companies had an entire Sales Prevention Department wholly out of tune with what the business was trying to achieve. I've also come across specific individuals who stood like King Canute stubbornly in the path of common sense and what everyone else is trying to achieve.

On another level a well-intentioned, hardworking individual may also suffer from “squeaky windscreen wiper” syndrome. Whilst it is true that we only give our best performance when we play to our strengths, it is also true that many people have one significant weakness that is in the way of their strengths achieving their full potential. For instance, I know of one director who is massively talented but is much less effective than he should be because he is singularly task focussed. Just a little more people and team orientation would transform his contribution.

So where are your squeaky windscreen wipers and are they converting the brilliance of your Ferrari into something as irritating as a rattling Morris Marina? Is there a process that is spoiling your customer's experience? Is there a team that is out of tune with the rest of your business and your customers? Or is there a personal weakness that is taking the shine off the brilliant performance you are capable of?

Whatever this weakness may be it will be worth your while getting it fixed. If you had a Ferrari you certainly wouldn't put up with squeaky windscreen wipers would you?

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