When Jack Walsh took over as CEO of GE, he surprised shareholders and industry analysts by announcing that before the end of his tenure the flagging industrial giant would climb back from near bankruptcy and become No.1 or No.2 in every market it was in. At the time, Walsh’s claim was considered arrogant. But within 10 years he had done just what he said he would do.

To achieve this spectacular business feat, Walsh did all the right things:

* He created an exciting vision, one that his workers and associates could be proud of.

* He communicated his vision so well that it became a corporate mantra.

* He broke down inter-company communication boundaries to increase the flow of ideas. He also did a couple of things you don’t hear about too often – one that I’m trying to do right now and another that I’m thinking I ought to do.

1. Busting The Invisible Boundaries Between You And Your Customers

There is no more popular business buzz word today than “relationship building.” The “new” idea is that businesses fare better if they treat their customers like valued relations rather than financial targets. Relationship building is a long-term, customer-first approach to marketing, fulfillment, and service. It requires a very intimate understanding of the customers’ needs, wants, and beliefs – and seeks to know them from personal interaction with customers rather than through mass surveys or selective focus groups. Happily, personal interaction is exactly what the Internet is all about.

By establishing an interactive website, you have a cost-efficient place in which to engage your customers on a one-on-one basis. You will hear their complaints immediately . . . you will be able to observe their frustrations firsthand . . . and you will be able to gauge the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the way you are handling them. When you want their feedback on a new product idea or an angle for a marketing campaign, they will be available to give it to you instantly.

To make an interactive website work for you, you’ll need to make it work for your customers. And that means you need to make it worth their while to use it by luring them with additional (usually free) enticements. You should (almost) never give away anything that you intend to sell, but you can offer related products/services. I am right now urging a client to set up such a system. It is a club with more than 50,000 worldwide members – and the Internet is the perfect place to put those members in touch with the club and with one another.

It’’s obvious that a well-thought-out website will (a) be very beneficial to club members and (b) be enormously useful in soliciting new ideas for products and services members are in need of. Make your website more useful to your customers and I bet you’ll start getting a lot of very good ideas directly from them. Jack Walsh made it easier for his customers to communicate with him (without the help of a website) and it made a big difference. Some of the ideas he got from them were worth millions.

2. A Very Simple Way To Make Your Employees Work Faster

The other unexpected thing Jack Walsh did (a “Eureka!” moment for me) was to introduce “quickness” as a corporate-wide business goal. He told GE’s employees, “We want to do everything we do quicker than we do it now. And if you help us, we will reward you.” It was a brilliant idea. Usually, managers try to manipulate their workers into working harder, longer, and faster. Jack Walsh simply asked them to do it. But he made his request a welcome challenge by establishing it as a company goal. I don’t know if I’m communicating to you how clever this really was.

The way I imagine it, doing almost anything faster became a challenge in every department and division of GE. And those who were successful in doing things faster were rewarded and encouraged to do more. The result was reported to be (and must have been) a great increase in efficiency and productivity.

New protocols were established, and cumbersome and outdated practices were eliminated. Instead of finagling your people into moving more quickly, simply ask them to. They, not you, know where the productivity gaps are. Give them a chance to breach those gaps (and a reward for doing so) and your business will prosper. I’m eager to try this out. How about you?