Pioneer. Maverick. Innovator. These are words you could throw at Richard Branson and they would stick. He’s our intrepid rebel billionaire. When you think ‘Richard Branson’, you think hot air ballooning in Africa; you think company launches replete with bikini-clad models; you think management by phone from Necker Island. You don’t think ‘communication’, and you certainly don’t think ‘details’. But, as he explains in his latest book Business Stripped Bare, when you’re talking about delivery – executing in your business – it all comes down to details and communication.
All About the Details
According to Branson, “it’s the attention to detail that really defines great business delivery.” It’s that simple. He advises every company owner or manager to travel with a notebook to jot down things that need doing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing – whether you’re listening to staff or customers, inspecting your product, or even just wandering through your office – it all needs to be captured in the notebook. Or else you’ll forget it.
For example, when Branson was on Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight to Japan he made a point of paying particular attention to cultural differences and the Japanese sense of respect and formality, as his notebook entry demonstrates:
“Need slippers in Upper Class, not socks. Need Japanese beers. Only one kind of newspaper from London: English. Need Japanese too. Japanese tea from London, not good. Japanese food from London. Tastes good but must be better presented. Looks like fish and chips. Saucers for Japanese teacups.”
Now, many leaders would balk at this micro-level focus, but Branson believes it’s imperative if you want to deliver the best to your customers (again and again). And the Virgin brand continues to do this better than almost every company in the world. It’s Branson’s near constant practice of putting himself in the shoes of his customer that gives Virgin the edge.
With so many competitors and options today, if you can nail customer delight and keep them coming back, you’ll blaze past your rivals.
Talk to Me
In Virgin’s early days, Branson would pen candid letters to his employees, telling them about everything that was going on with the company.
For Branson, this was a vital form of communication, in that the letters ensured a sense of intimacy in a rapidly growing company. Today, he admits that he finds it difficult to write the frank letters of the past, because they inevitably hit the press, but he still advocates that companies somehow communicate the overall picture of what’s going on to their employees.
Branson also has a message for all the business owners and managers out there: be brave. Hand out your e-mail address and phone number. It’s a psychological boost for those who work with you. It shows you trust them and that you’re there for them. If it’s urgent, you’re only a phone call away. “People aren’t stupid,” urges Branson, “they know not to misuse it or badger you.”
Staff also need to be heard, says Branson. There is nothing more frustrating for employees than to explain the same problems again and again and to have nothing done about them.
Branson recounts how he was on a Virgin flight and a member of the cabin crew told him that the sugar had run out. This person also explained that this wasn’t the first time, the sugar had run out on other flights too. Branson immediately put into effect the policy that flight staff reports are action-ed IMMEDIATELY.
Because the Virgin brand hinges on customer delight, Branson knows that flight staff reports are gold and should be dealt with right away. Consequently, the staff are happy and so are the customers.
For Branson, boiling a business down to its essentials is an important exercise and business strategy. On the point of delivery, it’s all about details and communication. That’s it.
What do you think about Branson’s ‘stripped bare’ approach to delivery?