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Management consultant, Hugh Latif & Associates, Vaughan, Ont.

Flu season is here and everyone is talking about getting their shot. Indeed, this is the time when many of us typically scramble to get the flu shot to avoid those winter bugs. But your business may also need a flu shot to protect itself from some nasty bugs.

There are three common illnesses or bugs in the business world, and young entrepreneurs and young managers, in particular, should learn to recognize them and remain vigilant in the fight against them.

The first of these bugs – and the biggest, most dangerous one – is taking the customer for granted. Every CEO and manager says they are customer-focused, but in far too many cases the organization does not support that. In short, those business leaders don't walk the talk.

For example, if a sales clerk is disgruntled or edgy toward customers, or doesn't answer the customer's question, that is not being customer-focused. By the same token, if a customer calls the organization's 1-800 number and suffers through five minutes of press 1, press 2, press 3, and so on, the message being sent from the company is "We don't want to talk to you."

Visiting the company's website and getting lost in a navigation breakdown or clicking on links that don't work does not endear the customer to you either.

A big point here is that customer focus is not a strategy just for sales and marketing people. It should be injected into the DNA of everyone in the organization through every single level. That means all your people should be able to generate leads and get rewarded for doing so.

Being customer-focused only happens by believing and doing, and then putting it into practice as company policy. The flu shot for taking the customer for granted is to get closer to your customer. In short, get to know them. This is the No. 1 reason that Amazon is so successful; it knows everything about its customers.

The second common illness or bug is not differentiating between you and the competition. Starbucks is an excellent example of how to deal with a commodity, coffee, and add value that makes the offering truly unique. Starbucks has 27,000 stores in 75 countries. It has a market valuation of nearly US$80-billion with US$22-billion in sales and US$3-billion in profit. They are obviously doing something right.

If your organization fails to differentiate between you and the competition, the flu shot is to adapt to market dynamics and revisit your value proposition. Take a long look at it and see what makes you special.

That brings us to the third common illness or bug: leadership breakdown. When this happens, the chances are good that team play will suffer and turnover will be high.

Recently, Sears, once a major retailer, closed its doors and let thousands of employees go without any severance or pension. And Canadian corporate giants Loblaws and the Weston group, among other companies, admitted to fixing the price for bread over a period of 14 years.

How can such large companies miss the boat? There were likely many bugs at play here – a board of directors asleep at the wheel or having a too-cozy relationship with the CEO, or maybe a board forgetting that its raison d'être is to watch over management and make sure these people do a good job. Indeed, how can a board approve dividends every year when the company is losing money, its trend is consistently downward and its pension fund is in deficit?

It's a case of leadership breakdown big-time. Is there a flu shot for that? Absolutely. Focus on building your people.

I love this quote from Zig Ziglar: "You don't build a business. You build people and then people build the business."

It's true.

Organizations with no team play, high turnover and an attitude of "do as I say, not as I do" have the flu. And make no mistake, such bugs attack all businesses – large, medium and small.

Cutting corners on management ABCs will always come back to bite you. It's only a matter of time. That is why it is better to get the flu shot.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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