Good reads issue #6: Keeping clients happy, travel policies, and important advice on improving your corporate culture

Here is a collection of interesting and instructive articles and blog posts that caught my eye this month. Enjoy!

• Let’s start off with something very practical, an article about setting a travel policy for your business. Before saying, “My business is very small; we don’t need a policy,” think again. Just because your company is small now doesn’t mean it always will be. Having policies in place about such things as under what, if any, circumstances, employees can fly business class will save hassles down the road. These are not things you want to be deciding on a case by case basis.

This article reminded of the time years ago I was hired to write a new travel policy manual for Polaroid Corporation. I have never worked on a project that took longer or had more drafts; every time we did a draft and it went up the chain of command to be approved, word would come back that someone on high was not happy with how a policy had been altered. The purpose of the changes was to get control over sky rocketing travel costs, but executives had become used to having the good life while traveling, so they fought back.

By putting policies in place from the get-go for your small companies that balance – as the author of this article suggests – travel costs and employee comfort and effectiveness, you’ll avoid the kind of hassles the travel department at Polaroid faced when it tried to rein in expenses.

• I really like this blog post by Jeanne Bliss entitled “Keep Clients Happy by Humbly Asking Forgiveness.” Saying “sorry” costs you nothing and can save you everything. If a client or customer is unhappy when something has gone awry, consider apologizing, even in situations where matters were out of your control. It can make a world of difference in your relationship going forward.

New research from the medical field shows just how effective an apology can be, even when the issue at hand is literally a life or death matter. Since 2001, the University of Michigan has encouraged health workers to admit mistakes, make a sincere apology and offer compensation. This fall, researchers released results showing what a difference this program has made in medical malpractice claims when it was put into effect at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The average monthly rate of malpractice lawsuits filed against the hospital fell by more than half, from 2.13 to .75 per 100,000 patient encounters. When lawsuits were filed, the cost of compensating patients and paying attorneys fell by about 60% and the average cost of lawsuits decreased from nearly $406,000 to $228,000.

• Finally, I end once again with sage advice from one of my favorite CEOs, Richard Branson, who has been writing a great series for Entrepreneur.com. This week his post is entitled “Richard Branson on Passing the Bad-News Puck: How to change the ‘us vs. them’ mentality in corporate culture.” We’ve all had front-line employees refer to their bosses as “them” when they are delivering bad news to us, such as telling us a product we want is no longer available. “They decided not to carry that any more,” the store associate tells us, for example, with the “they” meaning some one higher up the food chain. Often such statements carry a strong whiff of disapproval with them or a hint of “Hey, what can I do? I’m on a peon here.”

And at the same time, behind the scenes the bosses are referring to the employees as “them.” As Branson writes, in a truly healthy corporate culture, there is no “they” or “them,” it’s “we,” as in “We’re all in this together; let’s make it work.” He offers some advice for how to root out “they” vs “we” problems. Consider this as you prepare your company for success in 2011!

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