You may be surviving in the marketplace, but is your business really thriving and winning? In my role as a mentor, I challenge every business leader to be more open-minded as they face the challenges of change and new competitors entering their space. Most are reluctant to tip that balance between hard-won experience versus new thinking that can take them to the next level.
Thus, I challenge each of you to measure yourself against the following practices which I believe will expand your thinking and ability to keep up with the pace of change, and win in the global marketplace today:
Don’t let your passion alone drive the business. Passion and optimism are great for starting a business, but you need to add realism to keep it growing and thriving. Winning business owners really listen and act on feedback from customers and advisors. I find too many of you quickly become defensive and use old anecdotes to confirm your position.
Accept change as a way of life in achieving success. The days of winning by fixing processes, and never changing them are gone. Technology, competitors, and customers are changing every day, so the “tried and trusted” ways you do things need to be reviewed and updated regularly. No recent changes means you are likely falling behind.
Dig for the root problem rather than fixing symptoms. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and attack the symptoms of a new problem, such as blaming the marketing team for declining sales. If you dig deeper, you may find the root cause to be new competitors, or your key product has quality problems. Quick decisions and biases can be very costly.
Analyze market events in the context of emerging trends. Smart business owners are always looking at a host of inputs for the need to change, rather than reacting to the most recent individual customer complaint. The best change decision should address an emerging trend, rather than any specific case. Don’t be totally driven by a key customer.
Foster healthy disagreements among key team members. Successful business leaders don’t surround themselves with “yes” people, or team members that never speak up. You need to solicit diverse and creative ideas from outliers, and people who are willing to take a risk, even if you don’t agree. For this to work requires trust on both sides.
Find time for what you need to expedite learning. Learning from your own mistakes and missed opportunities is good, but not enough to keep you ahead of change. The best business leaders continually build new relationships with peers who have succeeded, industry experts, and influencers from other domains. Listening to customers also helps.
Reward risk taking rather than penalize or discourage it. Most business teams are risk averse, driven by their own fear of failure, or a company habit of penalizing failed attempts to implement change. You can change this by highlighting things learned from every effort, and rewarding creative efforts, even when they fall short of your goals.
Minimize the stress associated with decision making. Especially in a crisis, it pays to take a bit more time or sleep on the alternatives. While under stress, we all tend to focus on the short term, or take a quick emotional decision to get out of the situation. Watch how much pressure you put on your teams in these situations, and gather needed data.
Always consider both ends of a solution spectrum. Creative leaders always evaluate opposing alternatives for a positive solution to any issue, even if any similar alternative has failed in the past. This means keeping an open mind on every new challenge, rather than letting previous experience convince you than certain approaches will never work.
Put metrics in place to track decision results. Adopt the philosophy that making any decision is only the beginning, rather than the end. That means you need to assume that decision results need to be tracked and measured against your expectations. Even the best ones will probably require adjustments as the environment continues to change.
In business today, the real challenge is to stay ahead of your peers and competitors, in making the whole customer experience more memorable, to incent word-of-mouth marketing, positive reviews via social media, and the loyalty for return visits. Remember, you are the role model for your team, and they are the multiplier for your actions and decisions. Make your creativity worth their efforts.
*** First published on Inc.com on 5/17/2022 ***