Are you hiring entrepreneurs or bureaucrats?

Many of the blog posts in this series focus on topics specific to the golf industry, but every once in awhile it’s useful to look outside of our insular world of stimpmeters, slope ratings and tee sheet software and soak in some insights from the business world in general.

During my 30 years in the corporate world, I had an opportunity to work with some of the world’s most successful companies in a diverse set of industries including manufacturing, health care, financial services and commercial airlines.

Every industry has its unique quirks, but there are more similarities than differences… not really surprising when you contemplate that every industry is shaped by human behavior and there’s nothing fundamentally different about the people who inhabit most industries.

When entering into a business relationship with a new client executive I always found it useful to try to understand how the person fit into a simple mental model that categorizes every person as one of two species… Entrepreneur or Bureaucrat.

Entrepreneurs and bureaucrats are the yin and yang of the business world, and the philosophical and behavioral differences are as clear as night and day.  While there are some ‘schizophrenics’ who switch back and forth periodically between bureaucracy and entrepreneurialism, this is quite a rare condition… there is almost always a very strong tendency towards one personality type or the other, and it is rarely difficult to determine the dominant trait.  It’s similar to ‘handedness’… most of us are either clearly left handed or right handed, and while we can all operate with our ‘off hand’ we usually are quite uncomfortable and clumsy doing so… only a very small percentage of people are truly ambidextrous.

My upcoming book will dive deep down this rabbit hole… one cover will carry the title The Entrepreneur’s Manifesto… if you turn it over and upside down the other cover will carry the title The Bureaucrat’s Manifesto.  If you read it from one end, it’ll contain The Ten Commandments for Entrepreneurs… from the other end, The Ten Commandments for Bureaucrats.

When will it be available?  Well, that’s kind of like asking when I’m going to start my weight loss program… the answer is always ‘soon’.

But here’s a sneak preview…


The First Commandment for Bureaucrats:  Tolerate thy customers

We bureaucrats understand that customers are very important.  After all, without customers there would be no need for our jobs.

However, this is the sole virtue of customers and while you must tolerate them, you certainly don’t have to like them or spend one more minute with them than is necessary. Customers tend to make all sorts of unreasonable demands at the most inconvenient times.  They change their minds constantly, consistently want more service for less money, and frequently complain about your efforts even when you have done everything according to your company’s policies.  They often simply refuse to settle for the solution that is most convenient for you.  Worse yet, they sometimes expect you to actually care about their problems… as if you don’t have enough problems of your own to worry about.  So, on the whole, customers are pretty difficult people to deal with.

There are several helpful techniques that you can use in dealing with customers, depending on the situation.  For customers who you will probably only encounter once, there is no need to worry too much about whether they are satisfied… it’s really not your problem. For customers who you will be required to deal with on an ongoing basis, try to determine the minimum level of service that will keep them from complaining.  For difficult customers who demand more help than you think is reasonable, find a way to pass them on to someone else in your organization, and always find a way to be ‘too busy’ to deal with that customer in the future.

Of course, as a bureaucrat, you understand that the really difficult customers are probably going to eventually go elsewhere anyway, but good riddance… hopefully someone in our organization will figure out how to keep new customers coming in to replace the ones that leave.  If not, we can just charge the remaining customers more to make up the difference.


The First Commandment for Entrepreneurs:  Love Thy Customers

We entrepreneurs understand that customers are very important.  After all, without customers there would be no need for our jobs.

However, this is just one of many virtues of customers.  They have an endless variety of fascinating problems that they are trying to solve, and we entrepreneurs derive a great deal of satisfaction from helping customers achieve their objectives.  On top of that, customers tend to be very interesting people.  If you make a sincere effort to get to know your customers and to understand what they’re trying to accomplish, you can learn all sorts of interesting new things and can usually come up with some new ways that your organization can help them.  Many customers will be a little aloof when you first start to work with them and may even seem less appreciative of your efforts than you might expect.  That’s because there are a lot of organizations out there that provide poor service and that have gotten their hopes up in the past only to let them down.  You will find that as time wears on and you continue to provide a consistent, professional, level of service and display a positive, can do attitude, that even the most curmudgeonly customers will warm up to you.  And, once that happens, these people will be loyal customers for a long time to come.  A minimum requirement of you is that you treat your customers with trust and respect and earn the same from them.  The extra ingredient that turns a good customer relationship into a great one is to actually ‘like one another’… a relationship based on trust, respect and true affection will last forever.

As an entrepreneur, you understand that it is an important part of your job, and everyone else’s in our organization, to keep the customers coming back to our business, since it costs much more to acquire new customers than it does to continue to serve existing customers.  You also understand that the best possible form of advertising for your business is a strong reference from an existing customer.  By loving your customers and working with them in a positive win-win way, you will create the positive references that will draw more customers to your business.

There will likely be occasions in which you find yourself working with a customer (or prospective customer) that does not seem to be willing to work with your business in a win-win way. These customers seem to think that the only way that they can get proper value out of a relationship with a supplier is if they squeeze every last drop of blood and profit out of the suppler. The best thing that you can do in this situation is to do your best to persuade the customer that, in fact, a win-win relationship is possible.  And, in the end, that the only acceptable alternative to a win-win deal is a ‘no deal’.

There may also be occasions in which you find that you have a customer over a barrel, or that there is an opportunity to ‘trick’ a customer into a deal that is advantageous for your business but not for the customer.  Don’t go there.  The same ‘win-win or no deal’ rule applies when you have the upper hand in the relationship.

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What do you think?  Does your team love your customers… or tolerate them?

Keep your eyes peeled for the rest of the book… I’m working on it… really.

And now let’s come full circle back to my favorite industry… airlines… can you identify with the experience in the video below?  I hope nothing like this happens too frequently at your golf course!?!


1 Comment

  1. One of the best insights I’ve read on the dramatic variety of ways that managers and staff view customers.

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