Nice Companies Finish First

Great news – you don’t have to be a jerk to get ahead in business. Even better news – if you are a jerk, it will do damage that can never be recovered from. Best news of all – nice guys finish first, after all. (And gals.)

Nice Companies Finish First is the kind of book you need to buy a hard copy of, so you can star things. Underline things. Circle key words. Jot down ideas.  Almost every other page in this book is worthy of at least a ‘GEM’, and every chapter has a The Big Idea.

It’s a brilliant, beautiful concept that you can get ahead these days in business by being a really, really nice person.  But what does that actually mean? How do you implement ‘nice’ without turning your profitable business into a glorified charity?

Peter Shankman identifies 9 traits of great leaders, and works through them using real-life case studies (of businesses big and small) to help us identify how we can be nice, finish first, and still be profitable and happy.

My favourite quote of the entire book is: “Live life, have fun, and create good things.”

That’s really what we all want out of business – and it’s what our clients and customers want, too. I’m a die-hard Apple fan because my Macbook Air and my iPhone actually make my life better. You buy your coffee from Starbucks because you love the atmosphere – or perhaps you never do that, because you want to support your local coffee shop. But ideally we’re trying to live life the best we can, have a great time as we’re doing it, and create or be a part of creating things that make this life-living better and more wonderful all the time.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

One Level Above Crap

"All you have to do is simply make sure you and your team treats each customer one level above ‘crap’."
- Nice Companies Finish First, page 156

I heard Peter Shankman speak at an Infusionsoft conference in April 2014, and when he said this statement (or a variation on it), I was blown away. Partly with relief, and partly because I realised how true it is. Shankman says, “Our typical expectation for a customer service transaction starts out at ‘poor’ and, if we’re lucky, ends at ‘fair’.” We have been told for years that we need to be exceptional, awesome, amazing. To blow people away with huge efforts and drastic customer service actions.

But Shankman says no, and it’s with huge relief that we can say, you know what? He’s absolutely right. The last time I was at even one of my favourite stores or companies, it was enough that they treated me well. They didn’t go overboard, and I didn’t even Tweet about my experience. But it went well, I was happy, and I will buy more from them in future.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Be Human. Slow Down.

"If it is a huge decision, I’ll take a vacation for a couple of days so I am capable emotionally and physically of handling any fallout."
- Nice Companies Finish First, page 31

This is actually a quote from Michael Tompkins, president and general manager of Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa. And this was so critical, such a powerful message that is not being preached to business owners and leaders today, that I had to include it as a GEM. Because of the hurry-hurry, instant-access, now-now-now, 24-7 culture in which we are immersed, we believe the best choices we make are the fast ones. The instant ones. We feel we have ‘arrived’ as a business owner when we make snap decisions.

But now we’re reminded, refreshingly, that we are human. “Our human side comes before the business side,” Michael adds.  “At first I’d get advice along the lines of not mixing personal with business, but…why not? I am the same at home as I am at work.”

This concept is integral to this entire book, and to Shankman’s entire life.  I follow his blog, I read his Tweets and Facebook posts. He’s a real person. He sends photographs from his New York apartment, shares videos of his one-year old daughter. This is what our customers and prospects want – they want us to be real, living, human beings who have preferences, who share ideas, who (gasp!) make mistakes from time to time.

So in order to be the best human being you can be, get rest. Get sleep. Think about things for a few days. And then implement with focus and determination.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Be Nice, But Don’t Be Taken Advantage Of.

"There’s a big difference between being nice and being taken advantage of."
- Nice Companies Finish First, page 6

It’s refreshing to know that Peter is not just telling us to be nice. If he stopped there, he wouldn’t have a successful business (or series of businesses, which he has), and neither would we. So many business owners’ greatest problem is being nice – too nice. Nice to the clients who treat you like rubbish. Nice to the team member who consistently shows up late. Nice to the supplier who never delivers on time.

Peter Shankman does not advocate being an idiot – he advocates being a nice guy (or gal), but reminds us not to be taken advantage of.

One of the ways he points out that you can ensure you are being nice and are not being taken advantage of is by having a system in place to track things. Track feedback. Track profits. Track products. Track team member time. Even the simplest system in the world (notes on your iPhone, an Excel spreadsheet, a Basecamp project) will have a huge impact on your business if you keep it up.

Nice Companies Finish First surprised me at first because of the heavy focus on how to manage team members or staff or people. I thought it would be more about principles to live and work by, with perhaps a chapter or two about dealing with employees. But by the end, I realised that Shankman has nailed it when it comes to being nice – it starts with those who are integral to making the business what it is. You can be the most profitable CEO or business owner on the planet, but if you’re not a genuinely nice guy (or gal), following Shankman’s nine traits, you will be shown up. “It’s a transparent world out there, so you really don’t have a choice. You have to be nice”, says Joel Bomgar, one of the case studies in the book.

This is the must-have business book of the year. No matter what else you do, what success you have, if you don’t embrace the “be nice” principles espoused (and lived) by Shankman and the other leaders featured in this book, it will come back to bite you. The world sees everything these days.  What does it see in you?

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Karen Reyburn

ABOUT Karen Reyburn

I help accountancy firms navigate the murky waters of online marketing. It's a fascinating combination - accountants tend to be nervous about dipping their toe in, and online marketing itself says "Let's try it all!" But it works well, and accountants find it helpful that I can see both sides...
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