By Ed Rappuhn – SCORE Nashville
“My business is doing well but I know it can do better. I have several repeat customers but others just seem to disappear. I also have some loyal employees but my turnover is still higher than I’d like. What should I do?”
I have discussed SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) in a previous column. This is the most common method of assessing your current business situation. The one downside to SWOT is users tend to focus on the negatives.
Another way to look at your existing business is Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI allows you to look at what is good in your business and create a vision of what your business could be if instead of just good, these attributes became great. Involve employees, customers and partners in this process.
The 5 Ds of Appreciative Inquiry are:
Define, in a positive way, what you want to study. By looking at “opportunities” rather than “problems,” you generate excitement rather than defensiveness.
Discover what’s going well. Look at the history and current state of your business. Determine what is good, historically and today. Why do customers return? What makes your “loyal” employees stay? You want to accentuate these positives.
Dream what it would be like if “good” became “great.” Set a vision of what your business will be in the future. “My business is known for its delighted customers that continue to return, time after time. It is renowned for being a great place to work where there are rarely openings for new employees.”
Design strategies and tactics to reach that dream. You want to amplify the positives. This might include providing exceptional customer service and a work environment that promotes more employee autonomy or flexible scheduling.
Deliver on the strategies and tactics. Your employees, partners and everyone involved in making your business succeed have to buy in. Since they are engaged in the process, buy-in is usually easy.
Does AI ensure every customer will return and every employee will stay? Of course not. Some customers move away and some no longer need your product or service. Some employees have a change in life circumstances or simply do not work out. But Appreciative Inquiry can help improve customer and employee retention. It can also be used for other facets of your business such as innovation, service, quality, etc.
Some call Appreciative Inquiry more of a philosophy than technique. I like that view because AI becomes a culture in the business rather than a one-time process. You and your employees are constantly looking at what is going well and trying to improve upon the current status.
Ed Rappuhn is a mentor, workshop facilitator, and the past-chair of SCORE Nashville. SCORE mentors guide entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses. Sign up for a free SCORE mentor, find out about our reasonably priced workshops and other services, or volunteer to become a SCORE member at www.scorenashville.org. Email questions about your business to firstname.lastname@example.org watch for the answers in future columns.