Five Pragmatic Business Tips From Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei

by | Jun 14, 2019 | Business Growth, Leadership

People think professors are smart but often impractical – and sometimes that’s true. The best teachers simplify the complex and help us see how to use knowledge in pragmatic ways. Dr. Frances Frei does precisely that. She is a professor at Harvard Business School, author of Uncommon Service, and creator of a popular TED Talk. She is uncommonly good at building a bridge between research and pragmatic application.

Frei has vital lessons for business leaders, especially about two critical attributes of thriving businesses; trust and customer service.

1. Prioritize trust as a competitive advantage.

Trust is an intangible asset that has major tangible consequences. Trust effects revenue, margin, cost of acquisition of new customers, churn, and yes, the cost of capital. When trust is strong, customers and partners give a company the benefit of the doubt. When it is weak, businesses struggle to retain customers, attract talented employees, and negotiate favorable terms.

2. Never be afraid to tell the truth.

The truth comes out. However, much trust, not to mention money, is squandered on efforts to hide bad news. When Home Depot experienced a data breach, the then CEO, Frank Blake, took the issue head on. Jennifer Reingold, wrote in Fortune, “…the company apologized to its customers in a statement—mercifully free of mealy-mouthed corporate jargon…” It is precisely this type of forthrightness that wins out.

3. Choose what to be bad at.

Frei says that when people, or companies, don’t prioritize, they lose. She says that choosing what to be bad at allows businesses to prioritize resources that will be most valued by their customers. Conversely, it allows a business to ignore negative feedback from customers who aren’t a good fit for them to begin with. It is impossible to make these decisions unless you know who your ideal customers is, what they value, and how much.

The best teachers simplify the complex and help us see how to use knowledge in pragmatic ways. Dr. Frances Frei does precisely that. Click To Tweet

When asked what she chooses to be bad at, Dorie Clark, an expert in market strategy and personal branding, says, “email,” at least some email. Client messages take priority over request for favors, for example. She consciously decides not to allow others to create her ‘to do” list by making every email a priority.

4. Give employees your full attention – or else.

When people are ignored, they lose enthusiasm. Ignore the contributions of someone, especially in public, and they will soon believe that their efforts aren’t important. Worse, leaders who ignore people are signaling to everyone present, “This person’s ideas don’t matter and neither do they.”

It sounds like a foolish thing to do, but it’s common. Why? Because we don’t think that being distracted has any meaning. Frei says that leaders need to understand, “under what circumstances and to whom do you show your distraction?” It is important to understand this because while it may seem passive it represents a decision, conscious or not.

What makes Frei compelling is not only the content she offers but also her own authenticity, rigorous logic, empathy and focus. She models the very things she teaches and does it with good humor. Leaders who do the same will build trust, an ingredient as essential to success as any that show up on a balance sheet. Her TED Talk is well worth watching – find it here.

What is happening in your company that erodes trust? What is happening to build it?