When it comes to your health, high blood pressure is known as the silent killer. Left untreated, it can combine with other conditions, such as high cholesterol or diabetes, and lead to heart disease and stroke.
But what about your business? Are there silent killers there, too? Steve Blue, business growth consultant and CEO of Miller Ingenuity, a Minnesota-based engineering firm, says yes.
“Most companies have at least one silent killer lurking around,” says Blue. “One may not be bad, but if they combine they can kill your business.”
He offers these four warning signs that the health of your business may be at risk:
1. Meetings Are Love-Fests. When you have a meeting or conference call, does your team make nice and smile or do they feel comfortable enough to challenge each other? Meetings that are too nice – with no disagreements, conflicts or debates – can be a sign that something is wrong, says Blue.
“If there isn’t any conflict, it could be a sign that your people don’t care or they don’t have passion for what they’re doing,” says Blue. “You can’t move a business forward without conflict. The absence of conflict should not be your goal. Productive conflict should be.”
Entrepreneurs should encourage and train their staff to engage in managed, measured and meaningful discussions.
Related: 7 Deadly Sins of Business Meetings
2. Innovation Is On Vacation. What percentage of your sales is from products or services introduced in the past two years? If it’s less than 20 percent, your company’s innovation may be DOA, and it’s time to re-energize, says Blue.
“Innovation isn’t a goal, it’s an absolute requirement,” says Blue, adding that innovation isn’t just new products; it’s also internal and external processes and procedures.
At Blue’s company, Miller Ingenuity, employees spend the last hour of their day in the company’s creation station, swapping ideas and brainstorming. “You must make time and space for innovation, and allocate resources,” says Blue. He also has an annual innovation award where $5,000 is given to the employee who contributed the most innovative idea.
Related: What Really Fosters Innovation?
3. The Customer is Always Right. When a conflict arises between your company and a customer, does your salesperson side with the customer? While “the customer is always right” has been a business motto for a long time, Blue cautions entrepreneurs to tread cautiously.
“Your customer can put you out of business by squeezing your margins to nothing if they can get away with it,” he says. “Your customers may also abandon you in a minute if they find a better deal somewhere else. So why on earth would you want salespeople who work for your customer?”
Instead, train your salespeople to develop deep relationships with their customers, so when it’s time to give them bad news, such as a price increase, the relationship and service factor will be worth the cost.
"While you want your staff to take care of your customers, their loyalty should be to your company,” says Blue. “Customers don’t pay the bills, profits do.”
4. Toxic Employees. We’ve all encountered rude flight attendants, clerks and waiters who act as if your requests are an imposition, but do you have any of these toxic people on your staff? Just one can impact repeat business and destroy years of customer loyalty. In fact, it’s the worst of the silent killers, says Blue.
Go through your organization one layer at a time, asking your staff and customers who the toxic people are. Someone knows. Once you have identified them, tell them they must change their behavior immediately or they can’t stay. Set a new standard of behavior for the entire company, and offer training to employees on proper customer engagement.
“Once you have cleaned house, be mindful that weeds always grow back,” says Blue. “Be prepared to prune the garden often.”