What Your Business Can Learn from “Back to School” Season


There are several lessons that businesses can apply from students beginning a new school year. Here are three questions you should ask yourself.

September is nearly upon us, and that means one thing (apart from football season, of course): it’s time to send your kids back to school for the new academic year. I think there are many business applications to the uncertain, yet exciting, time when the new school year begins.

Countless thoughts run through every child’s mind each August/September. How should I present myself to the people I want to impress? What relationships are most important — or even invaluable — to me? Will I care more about grades, friends or extracurricular activities? How much can/should I “change” myself?

If you really think about it, these are questions that face companies any time they are presented an opportunity to form new relationships. For that reason, I think there are lessons to be learned here. Based on my experiences, both as a kid going back to school years ago and as a professional now, here are some tips I’ve gleaned from the “back to school” season:

  • How should I present myself to the people I want to impress?

    “It’s all about positioning.” I’ve heard this applied in the business sense many times, but usually only when it’s aimed at entrepreneurs. Starting off at a new school, similarly, is a great time to consciously decide who we want to be, and how we want to be perceived. For those of us who are past the “entrepreneurship” stage of business, though, I still think this is a perfectly valid topic.

    Look at the mirror: what are the strengths of your company? What do you wish you could improve? Doubtless you already have at least one or two answers to that second question, but I do hope you also instantly have several answers to the first question. Take a look at what you wish you could improve, and frame it in the context of your strengths.

    As an example, assume that your company’s strength is that you’re always looking to stay at the forefront of technology, but you wish you could improve employee productivity. Look for ways to use your technology (your strength) to improve that productivity (the opportunity). Looking at what already works for you, instead of always looking for a brand-new solution, is a good way to make improvements without going through too much trouble.

  • What matters most to me?

    As a child, the answer to this question seemed to change almost every year. In hindsight, I found that I tended to care more about academics when moving to a new school. Once I got comfortable in that setting, I’d slowly end up caring much more about friends and extracurricular activities. As a result, my grades suffered.

    Taking my eye off the prize — academic (and, therefore, future) success — sometimes really set me back and pushed me away from where I knew I wanted to be. If your company puts a major emphasis on transparency and client communication, don’t just throw it all away because Product X would help you cut costs (but at the risk of alienating customers). This leads perfectly into my last tip . . .

  • How much can or should I change myself?

    In business, I’ve discovered the great secret that is “don’t change, adapt.” It can be tempting to try to reinvent your company just so you can impress a certain group of people. While the goal of striving for constant improvement is all well and good, ignoring who you really are is not a good recipe for long-term success.

    If your goal for your company is to be a great building service contractor that provides superior service at a slightly higher cost than lower-quality competitors, then don’t give up on that by trying to outbid everyone through extremely low prices. Find your core identity and stick to it. Making minor changes that will help your business grow without sacrificing your core identity is a much better way to build and sustain success.

Business doesn’t have an off-season (at least not in most industries), which can make it more difficult to reinvent your company and its brand in the eyes of your clients. I think this is a blessing, actually, because of the way it forces us to instead look to improve through small and simple ways. True success — whether as a kid coming back to school after a long summer break or as a business — doesn’t come from changing who we are. It comes from adapting ourselves to better meet the needs of our employees and our clients.

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