If You’re Not Getting Better, You’re Getting Worse

Friday, January 8th, 2016
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Many of us have heard the saying, “the only thing constant in business (and in life) is change,” and I’m sure most of us would agree.

Of course we don’t change our business for the sake of it. Change is hard work and can be painful.  Why do it when we have to concentrate on winning clients and then satisfy them in exceptional ways?

Well, change is part of life, and to grow our business we need to change it. You can’t stay the same; either you’re getting better or you’re getting worse. No one can argue that business development is not better than stagnation.

So how do we get better? Of course the leaders of any organisation need to have a good idea of which direction they should be heading. This direction is determined generally from both idealistic goals (those generated from personal passion) and realistic goals (those generated from market demand).

Goal setting is necessary, not just in the mind, but transformed into actual documented plans in one-week, one-month, three-month, one-year and five-year modules. Goals need to be in a form that stakeholders can read, follow modify, measure and write into their diary.

Getting better means making conscious decisions and actions to change. That likely means significant effort and perhaps some short-term financial expense. It also means doing stuff that is not immediately and directly serving the clients who are paying to get things done now, and because of that, there often is resistance to change.

Plus, we often think, why change anyway? We are comfortable, nothing drastic is happening, so we wait, which without us being aware, leads to decline. Prospects won’t see the confidence which comes with development, ambitious employees look for more challenging work elsewhere, and motivated and passionate competitors overtake us. Before we know it, we are outdated and at that point it is very hard to catch-up.

Having a constant sense of business urgency is a valuable discipline to have, but can be hard to develop and maintain. It is a product of the organisations leaders’ hunger, passion, motivation and courage.

Let’s assume the organisation’s leaders have the vision, direction and goals, and they have the hunger, passion, motivation and courage to employ strategies (big concepts) and tactics (smaller actions) to take them toward their destination. Most of us think strategy first then tactics, but it is not as straightforward as that.

Yes, we need a strategy first to define that big move toward our destination. However, in a worst case scenario, the results of our first tactic may completely change the strategy. We may find after the first (or second or third) tactic is employed that things are not going to plan.

A key ingredient is to remain flexible and resilient, ‘flexible’ to act to quickly change according to the tactic feedback, and ‘resilient’ so as not to be discouraged too easily. As Winston Churchill wisely said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

So how do we know what is the right tactic to employ now? The simple answer is, we don’t. We can’t predict the future.

History is full of wrong predictions, including theories surrounding how the first baby boomers would cause mass unemployment upon entering the workforce, how women would not work in significant numbers, how everyone would wind up working from home, the paperless society, VCRs killing TV, and TV killing books.

We also can’t predict people’s attitudes. For example, you would think with what we know about smoking that it would be a thing of the past, or with what we know about healthy eating and exercise that obesity would not exist.

Heck, we can’t even predict what we personally will be doing. Look back at your own life and see how your wants and values have changed. Would you have predicted those?

Even when we micro-plan we get it wrong, with nearly all our tasks taking longer, being harder, and consuming more resources than we initially plan for.

So we can’t get the future right, but we still need a strategy based on medium to long-term goals, all laid out to a flexible plan, which we constantly correct, just like the airline pilot knowing the destination but having to make small corrections along the way. Most of all, we just need to start regardless of not knowing the result. Action beats inaction, and many successful business leaders and entrepreneurs accept the “Ready, Fire, Aim” principle.

If at first it doesn’t work, modify and keep going, just like the ‘Lisa,’ the first iteration of the Macintosh product. The product failed miserably, but it taught Apple what the market really needed. The theory is: lead, take a shot, listen, respond, and then repeat.

Another part of the ‘getting better’ policy in the 21st century is adopting appropriate technology. Go to sleep here and wake up with everyone passing you by.

You may well need a director of technology to study and regularly advise management on new technologies for competitive advantage. Management then should consider at least three questions:

1) Are we leaders in our industry regards technology?

2) How can technology improve our service and grow our business?

3) What can we do to be technological leaders in our industry two or five years from now?

Every employee and stakeholder also should be encouraged to come forward with any big ideas on how to move forward, and management needs to be open to these ideas, and encouraged to adopt a healthy and progressive attitude towards change. There are many inspirational and thought-provoking business development and marketing-related books available (not just the boring facts-and-figures type) from which many new ideas relevant to your business can be discovered. You can’t go astray reading these. Your staff could be encouraged to read them as well.

Perhaps we all can’t be, or don’t want to be, industry leaders. It requires commitment, courage and some discomfort. However, we can all learn from and adopt some leadership principles, and perhaps strive to be a leader at the place and level we feel suits us. The trick for all of us however, is to continuously act to get better at who we are and what we do. If we have achieved that, we can claim a certain positive amount of business success.

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