Richard Branson is the quirky businessman who is best known for the Virgin brand, including Virgin Airlines and the Virgin Records. The Virgin empire includes more than 400 companies and has made Branson one of the world’s richest billionaires.
Although I’ve never met Richard Branson, I’m familiar with his philosophy and I find it very intriguing. I also recently read his new book, Finding My Virginity, and was completely inspired by it. As someone who works with CEOs and entrepreneurs, the thought hit me: what would Richard do if he ran one of my clients’ businesses, or any business for that matter? Branson’s universal business concepts are applicable to any business setting. So follow me now, as I consider what Richard Branson would do if he had the chance.
1. Challenge the Status Quo
Branson has been referred to as “the original disruptor.” He was applying the concept of disruptive innovation even before it had a name. He thrives on bringing new products and services to the market that completely change the playing field for consumers and competitors.
“Screw it, just do it!” That’s the motto Branson applies to trying new things, taking risks, and learning from the successes (and failures).
But don’t let his cavalier attitude fool you. Branson isn’t reckless in business. He makes bold moves (something I advocate for) but he also minimizes the risk of failure. For example, when he started Virgin Airlines, he had a contingency plan that would have allowed him to sell the airplanes if the business failed.
Branson also isn’t afraid to admit when an idea doesn’t work. He is able to identify and accept failure as a natural part of innovation. He learns from the mistakes but moves on.
There are tremendous opportunities right now for game-changing innovations and new models of delivery. Entrepreneurs should explore those opportunities and be willing to try something new, while also managing their risk.
2. Look At Things From the Customer’s Perspective
“Is this how I would want to be treated if I were the customer?” Asking this question is what prompted Branson to start Virgin Airlines at a time when the airline industry was struggling. He flew on a competitor’s airline and was unhappy with his experience. He decided to create the type of airline he would want to fly on, and he did.
Simplicity and good customer service will win every time. ~Richard Branson
Take the time to look at every aspect of your facility, services, and staff and ask yourself, “Is this how I would want to be treated if I were the customer?” If not, make the experience better and don’t stop improving.
3. Listen to Your Customers
Branson believes in having a “fearlessness of engaging with people, because conversations can change the world.”
Get out of the office and talk to your people and your customers. Your customers will let you know what you’re doing well and where you can improve. At a time when customer satisfaction is a critical factor in determining a business’s value, it has become more important than ever to listen.
Many businesses rely on customer satisfaction surveys. These can take months to get results, and are often not statistically significant. Don’t wait, get informal feedback, have conversations, and listen.
This applies to any industry. One rural hospital CEO I know makes a point to talk with patients. When he learned that one patient had been annoyed by a squeaky door, he immediately had the door repaired. Little things make a difference.
We like to listen to our customers, because it’s an opportunity to be creative ~Richard Branson
Branson always carries a small notebook and writes down observations about his experiences so they can help inform his decisions later.
4. Hire Great People and Take Care of Them
Branson attributes much of his success to hiring good people, especially those who are better and smarter than himself. He has been known to say, “Realize that the employees are the business.”
Whenever you are setting up a new project, the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who are better than yourself, have different skills and a healthy combination of enthusiasm and experience. ~ Richard Branson
He looks for people who share his mission and vision and his preference. His preference is hiring “friendly” over “experienced.” He seeks out employees who have “fresh perspectives, great attitudes, and were eager to have fun, and then trained them to do their job.”
Branson believes in treating employees well, promoting from within, making sure they have the right tools, and getting to know them on a personal level. Personal connection goes a long way.
Branson’s philosophy is that when employees are treated well, are passionate about their work, and are given the right tools, they will deliver a higher level of customer service, and they will do it with a smile. This is where success begins.
Always look for the best in your people. Lavish praise. Never criticize. ~Richard Branson
Leaders can apply these important concepts by creating a culture that supports employees, rewards them for their performance and positive attitudes, and only hires people who are friendly and passionate about their work. This type of workplace becomes desirable to potential employees, as well as customers.
5. Listen to Your Staff
Branson’s “golden rule” for business is listening to his employees. Applying this simple concept has allowed Virgin Trains and Virgin Money to become leading innovators in their industries.
By supporting and encouraging the ideas of our people, we have been able to focus on staff wellbeing, and in turn create open working environments where people feel valued and thrive. Frustration in the workplace should be fleeting. A company with a listening culture is more likely to attract and retain great people. The message is clear: if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business. ~Richard Branson
Find ways to listen to your staff and train your middle managers to do the same. Encourage ideas and support employee innovation. Given the opportunity, your staff will help you solve your organization’s biggest challenges.
6. It’s All About the Details
Branson believes that an exceptional company “is the one that gets all the little details right.”
This concept rings true in every business. Developing a culture of excellence in your company means paying attention to the details – every detail.
One patient that I spoke with recently told me about her recent stay in the hospital. While there wasn’t anything overly negative about the experience, one thing that bothered her were the large dust bunnies under the chair. While the rest of the room may have been clean, the dust bunnies made this patient feel like the room and hospital were poorly maintained.
While perfection isn’t likely, paying attention to the small details will improve your customer’s/patient’s experience and result in higher overall quality.
7. Be the Best – Regardless of Your Size
Don’t think you can’t be the best simply because you’re small. Strive to be the best, regardless of your size. According to Branson, “biggest doesn’t mean best.” Small organizations can excel by offering a personal touch and friendly staff that can be more difficult for larger organizations to deliver. Small organizations are also more nimble and can make changes more quickly. Use small organizational size to your advantage.
In short, when considering how to handle the many issues faced by businesses, one thing you can do is look for examples of people who have succeeded. Like Richard Branson. What would those people do? Whether you follow that person’s example or not, thinking of the problem from their perspective will trigger new ideas in your mind. So if you’re stuck, try asking yourself, “What would Richard do?”