I recently attended the CEDIA Business Xchange conference in Houston. What a great event! It offered great examples of collaboration, learning opportunities, fantastic presentations, sharing best practices, and getting to know fellow integrators. We did all of the above. Well, sort of.
I have to believe that McDonald’s franchise owners get together to work on their businesses on a regular basis. I have to believe they identify best practices and share those across their organization to improve profitability. Not only do I believe this, I know this. One of my clients owns 13 McDonald’s locations and is considered one of the most profitable operators in the entire organization. I’m assured by my client that they don’t discuss which kind of potatoes make the best french fries or how best to make a hamburger. They’ve figured all of that out a long time ago and work on shaving margin at a much more granular level.
Meanwhile, in CEDIA World, we still can’t agree on a standard chart of accounts, workflow, or even the best way to run a service call. I found myself in conversations in Houston about what kind of speaker wire was best, and about the finer points of 4K. Don't get me wrong, I love that stuff, but that wasn't the purpose of the event. What are we missing? Smart people? No. I checked. We have a ton of smart people. Drive? Still no; as an industry, we work 24/7 and are motivated to compete and succeed. What could it be?
Unfortunately, I think the answer is an inconvenient truth. We’re not missing anything. It’s what we have in spades that hurts us. The swagger and ego that convinces our clients to say “yes” to our proposals often works against us when it comes time to collaborate with each other. To move forward as an industry, we have to check our egos at the door and allow the possibility that repeating the same activity over and over again may indeed be the definition of insanity. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen plenty of collaboration efforts fail even in the most altruistic and selfless of groups as well.
There’s one good way to do 90 percent of the activities in all of our companies. The organization most able to bring us all together (CEDIA) is now making strides to encourage the spirit of collaboration. CEDIA just launched CEDIA Groups, a roundtable-style peer group effort (full disclosure; I’m one of the group leaders) to enable us to seize that opportunity to become more profitable and successful.
Easy enough, right? Not so much. I’ve been a part of several attempts at unifying workflow and standardizing best practices. It’s a real challenge to get everyone on the same sheet of music. It’s so easy to gather together talented people and have the results end up going south. That’s when everyone’s aligned, mind you. Maybe our businesses just don’t scale well. Maybe there’s a reason why most of us are two- or three-man shops making less than one million dollars per year.
If that’s indeed the case, explain the HVAC industry to me. Here’s a world full of hourly workers, complex systems, and a ton of revenue. “Henry,” you say, “it’s a much bigger market; everyone has HVAC so you couldn’t miss with a missing machine.” Sure, I’ll concede that point, but it’s still a similar industry.
How many of you know your local competitors? Are you friends or at least friendly with them? I spend a ton of time talking to our competition. After all, we’re doing the same thing for a living. Maybe we have something in common? Talk about a golden opportunity for best practice sharing. They know the market and so do you.
Here’s my challenge: Team up with a competitor and start doing something the same way. Compare notes after 30, 60, or 90 days. Stay away from FTC violations. You get the idea. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Maybe you need them down the road. Maybe they need you. Maybe the next time you see your competitor, you’ll resist the urge to share the tales of all the million dollar jobs you’re doing and just level with them about what’s really going on in your business. One of my competitors used to say that face-to-face meetings helped because you could see “the other guy doesn’t have horns.”
Let’s stop trying to convince each other we’re all doing just fine. We’re not. We need help and the best resource comes from within.
Stay frosty and see you in the field.