Use the outside world to improve your inside team

Sometimes we get caught up trying to solve all our internal problems by ourselves. Does your staff use the outside professional world to find answers? I don’t mean paid consultants. There are many ways to bring outside-world knowledge into your organization.

Connections with nonprofit industry associations can create tremendous networking opportunities, as well as opportunities to discuss technology and business issues, suppliers, potential customers and much more. I’ve been involved in my specific trade association for 30 years, which has tremendously helped my education in my industry. I learned by being involved in committees, the board and finally by becoming the chairman. 

One of my fellow members became a great mentor to me. He introduced me to the concept of sharing best practices. He invited me to his manufacturing facility in South Carolina with open arms and open doors. Most of us are afraid competitors will steal ideas and customers.

But I learned the contrary. After I opened my business to friendly and professional competitors, I didn’t lose any customers because my customers trust me. If you are afraid of losing customers, you have a bigger problem. I have been in at least 100 competitor facilities because of their willingness to open their doors.

But let’s take this a step further than just CEOs or presidents being involved. There are five trade associations I have found in my industry. Get your senior management staff involved with as many as you can. Five from my team are with different associations.

They are now networking, brainstorming, visiting and sharing with people within our industry. When we have an issue we can’t solve, we contact members, suppliers and association staff, and visit their webpages, which are filled with helpful information. Our suppliers are much more open to creating strategic relationships because they know they are just as important to us as our customers. We get to know them personally through networking at events.

Some of these meetings, however, are meatloaf meetings: meet some, loaf some. Spouses are encouraged to attend. What better way to reward your senior management than to be on a semi-vacation with their spouses at a nice location. Plus, they are good for rekindling your enthusiasm and passion for your career.

There are other, local networking opportunities for your staff. One is your local chamber of commerce. Get involved by giving your time. You will meet so many open-minded people who want to share and learn. Plus, our community has done so much for our businesses that we should find ways to give back.  

The key to networking is sharing. Open up your mind, your staff and your facility to like-minded people. Most will give you a return you wouldn’t find if you kept your doors closed.

Dolf Kahle is CEO at Visual Marking Systems Inc.