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• Offer more than the minimum. Think, if you will, of Starbucks or the dinner in the fine restaurant. Are we offering a plain vanilla product, or is it somehow more complete, useful, or interesting than the thousands of other reports that get shoved up the line in every organization every day? How can we stand out from the crowd?
Perhaps there is an even more pressing problem: How can we move beyond our pasts? For better or worse, external audits, internal audits, and even forensic investigations are now decades, if not many decades, old. We have track records trailing us, and in many important respects they are at odds with who we are now and, especially, with who we desire to become in the future. Our problem may not be so much with who we are ourselves, but who our peers and superiors see when they look at us. Many senior executives and board members had their primary learning experiences in organizations two, three, or even four decades ago. They were exposed to a much different controls and investigations environment than exists at present, yet many still retain images of our prior selves and modes of operation. A sizable amount of education needs to be done, and I suspect it will fall to the practitioners reading these words to begin to address it. It can be done; Henry has commented on the success of the corporate security field to move in this direction.6 We need to begin to take similar steps.
• Remember that the company is the brand. Customers often look past the product to the core values of the organization that produces it. In a crowded field, reputation can be a differentiator, and truly it can be the little things that count. Consistency can be viewed as plodding repetitiveness and more of the same, or it can be portrayed as “Never missed a deadline!” I suspect many in our field are proud of their reputations and methodologies, and those are built on
sound foundations of professional competency, devotion to duty, adherence to details, and thorough documentation. We could, with but a little tinkering, apply these same attributes to a robot on an assembly line, Or, we can put them before our customers as statements of value brought to the table:
“Never missed a deadline,” “Certified professional,” “If it’s there, we’ll find it,” and “We can back up what we say.” This is, after all, advertising.
9. The brand doesn’t appeal to the young.
Bedbury cautions against the pursuit of cool, whatever that is, since it is defined necessarily by others and is a volatile and changing thing. An enduring attempt to always be cutting edge can leave one without roots and having expended a significant amount of energy. Instead, Bedbury advises to stick with the core of the business and concentrate on being respectful of employees, customers, and the environment, while remaining honest and principled.
There is little to add to Bedbury’s prescription, other than to again counsel against change for the sake of change or trying to always be the flavor of the month. Fashion in management is as changeable as it is in clothes and cars, as any perusal of a bookstore’s Management section will reveal. Few titles survive more than a couple of months, only to be replaced by the newest proscriptive. Endless tinkering with our professional persona and message will probably do us more harm than good. One is reminded of Bedbury’s injunctive in his first prescription for brand revival: Analyze and think before taking action.
An example from the heartland of America will perhaps convey the manner in which such thoughtful, measured, yet significant change can be achieved. The Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition, or NorTech, makes annual awards to companies in that area. As writer Ann Quigley recounts:
The awards program, now in its eighth year, rewards creators of novel products or services that increase company value. Companies inspired to innovate would do well to look to their strengths, judging by the strategy of seven-time NorTech Award winner Keithley Instruments, Inc., based in Cleveland, which develops product testing methods for the electronics industry. To develop its winning product, a test for fiber optic networks, Keithley avoided copying the competition, Silicon Valley industry giant Agilent Technologies. Instead, to create a climate of innovation, it drew on the assets of northeastern Ohio, a long-time manufacturing seat that still espouses small-town values like loyalty and a solid work ethic. Keithley encouraged employee input and employee-customer partnerships, trusting that its employees weren’t solely motivated by stock options, bonuses and raises.
Developing its winning product... involved a large amount of customer interaction. About 40 percent of Keithley’s development engineers—the folks usually holed up in labs—visit customers, according to Linda Rae, a general
manager at Keithley. “It’s very important for the design guy to actually hear the customer’s voice in a manufacturing environment,” she says.7