Steven Strauss Column: Old School
November 3, 2011
We are in a business that is in a very competitive field and are trying to figure out what we can do to stand out from the crowd. Our budget is limited so what do we do?
I get versions of the question above all of the time and it’s no wonder. Owning and running a business is never an easy task and in an economy like this one it is even tougher. So do you innovate, or create a great product, or concentrate on customer service, or take care of your employees, or what?
You do all of that.
Let me explain: Last year, my brother called me and said the following: “Steve, I came up with a great slogan for a business, only I don’t really know what it means.” “What the heck are you talking about?” I asked. And he said, “Here it is: ‘Making old school new again.’”
I agreed that it was catchy, and further agreed that I was not sure what it meant.
But last week, after interviewing Dave (son) and Fran (mom) Heffner of the software company CODY Systems, it dawned on me that CODY is making old school new again. What I mean is that one would think that if there ever was an industry that was not old school, that was hot and trendy, it would be the high-tech software industry. But what I saw is that, even in an economy like this one – maybe especially in an economy like this one – what works is to combine some old school values with new school innovation.
That’s what CODY does. That’s what works for them. And that’s what can work for you too.
Let’s start with the innovative part. CODY is an industry leader in the area of law enforcement software. The company began 30 years ago, literally as a mom and pop operation, when Fran’s husband Dave wrote a program designed to help law enforcement share data. Today, while of course far more sophisticated, CODY’s C.O.B.R.A. program does the same thing: It saves lives by allowing hundreds of agencies and thousands of officers in the field nationwide to share up-to-the-minute tactical information, no matter what jurisdiction it comes from.
And while that sort of innovative product is great, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. As the folks at CODY say on their website, “We have seen competitors come and go over the years because they failed to realize that technology may get you noticed, but it is the commitment to your clients that will keep you around. Our software is among the best because we are committed to pushing the technology curve. But even so, we would not have survived without our emphasis on service.”
Among other things.
When I asked the Heffners how they have been affected by the not so Great Recession, they explained that not only have they not had to lay any of their 40 employees off, but that their business has in fact grown, and that is true even with having governments as their main customers.
Why? Both Dave and Fran attribute their success to those old school values I mentioned:
Take care of your employees: At CODY, employees and their families get a 100% company subsidized, premium-level healthcare, dental care, and vision care benefits package. The employee pays nothing out of pocket for this exceptional benefit. Not only that, but there is no huge pay disparity between the owners and the employees. Yes, the Heffners make less and their employees make more, but that is far outweighed by the loyalty and commitment of their happy staff.
Create a winning culture: Dave said to me, “We don’t hire and promote people for what they know, we hire and promote people for who they are.” Fran added, “We hire characters with character.” At CODY, what counts is tenacity, the willingness to work hard, and having a sense of humor.
Focus on what you do best: “We are not the army, we are more like a special ops team. We do things that a huge company cannot,” said Dave. Bottom line: “Yes our software is great, but is the people and culture that are more important.”
So, what works today? Yep, making old school new again.
Today’s Tip: Employees are often prepped as to what questions to expect to be asked in an interview, but what about the questions they should ask? According to CareerBuilder.com, some of the ones to consider are:
• Where do you see this company going in the next five years?
• What is in store for the foreseeable future of this industry?
• What are your firm’s most important assets?