Running the fastest growing hosting company in the world takes its toll on me sometimes. Other entrepreneurs often ask me how I continually seem to be ahead of the game and I tell them "it's easy, I hear voices".
Before the staff carries me off to an insane asylum, let me explain a bit further. A very bright man once told me to shut up and listen to those around me. As I sat in his office trying to figure out how to schedule next semester’s classes – he showered me with a ton of invaluable knowledge that I was lucky enough to absorb along the way. His words resonate in my head to this day – "If you REALLY want to know what's wrong or right with your company – ask your employees and your customers!" I remember thinking at the time, uh yea – I paid for this? But as I progressed down the executive tracks – this notion seems to elude a lot of the top brass that I come across on a daily basis.
So just when and where do I hear these voices? Well, I hear voices at work sometimes (obviously) – but I am more likely to hear them at dinner, over drinks, chatting, texting, IMing, at a party or simply spending time with my cohorts. After spending years building relationships with both my team and my customers – I have found that nothing is harder to do and nothing provides more insight into how to improve the company and build for the future. I'm somewhat amazed at times what both sides will share with me (good, bad and ugly), but I have learned to "shut up and listen."
My advice to other business owners out there is to parlay on my secret. It won't happen overnight and it certainly takes a lot of time and effort on your part. My customer stable (Vik, Eric, Mark, Joe, Chris, Nick, Peter, Kevin, ….et al) has grown over the years and some I talk to almost on a daily basis. Without their input, SoftLayer would not be the company it is today. I am not saying everything they say or want is feasible (sorry guys), but for the most part their voices help shape the current and long-term vision of the company. If you manage a company and can't pick up the phone and call dozens of customers for real feedback, I would suggest that you are severely out of touch with your customer base.
Equally important is your own employees. Your people are your greatest assets -- they ARE the company. Throwing my two cents in here: hire bright motivated people, give them authority and responsibility, share your direction and vision, let them flourish and most important – "shut up and listen!!" My standing personal goal is to surround myself with brilliant people – it makes me look like a genius!!