Recently I noticed, while talking strategy with business owners, most are trying to figure out what they need to do to prepare for the future. These conversations can generally be divided into three groups. The first group of owners know they need to do something to make their business better, but don’t know what their first step should be. The second group kind of knows what they need to do, but are so overwhelmed by the amount of change required, they just don’t know how to take that first step. There is one other group, we’ll call them the “lucky” group, that thinks things are fine the way they currently are and don’t need to make any changes. We’ll wish the “lucky” group continued success and focus on the first two groups.
If you know you need to make changes, but are having problems with that first step, what do you do?
The first thing you need to do is be aware that you are not alone. This is a common problem almost all successful business owners encounter. It’s part of growing a sustainable, adaptable business in the midst of a quickly evolving market.
There are five steps to achieving what I am going to call Business Mobility. My simple definition of Business Mobility is: moving your business from its current position to another. A simple definition and concept, but sometimes hard to achieve. If you have read any of my previous blogs, you will notice that I tend to repeat these next steps. I believe they are the foundation for positive change in an organization.
Clarify your existing situation
Take time and do a thorough review of all aspects of your business. Understand your company, customers, competition, and the current operating environment. I highly encourage you to do this exercise in a collaborative fashion. Include others in the process so you can incorporate their ideas and opinions. Many times, knowing your current situation better will give you clarity on what your next steps should be. In situations like these, completing a SWOTT analysis is very helpful.
Define where you want to go
Now that you have a better understanding of your current situation, what do you want to achieve? What is your vision for your company? It’s reasonable at this point to be a little fuzzy in your vision. This is another tripping point for some. Many like to have everything well-defined before they proceed. You may find that if you wait to get that much detail before you start, you will have given a head start to your competitors. One thing that may help with this process is a gap analysis to determine how far off you are from where you need to be. This type of analysis could be useful to prioritize what areas should be approached first.
Identify action steps
Now that you fully understand your current situation and have a concept of where you want to go, it is time to create the steps needed to get there. This is a difficult area where some people and, subsequently, companies become paralyzed. In these situations I find the quote “When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.”, by Creighton Abrams enlightening. The best way to handle a large project is to break it up into small, manageable pieces. Even better, share these pieces with others. Like all other steps, it is important to collaborate during this step. This keeps your action items realistic and it gets buy-in from your team. If you are stuck trying to figure out what your next step is, ask your team this question, “What can we do in the next one-two weeks to make progress on this?”
Create a timeline
Once you have identified your first couple of action steps, define when you want these steps completed. These will be important milestones for you to gauge your progress and to understand if you are on the right track. I encourage you to keep the time between milestones pretty short. Somewhere between one to four weeks is generally reasonable. If you go out longer than a month before you check your progress, you are entering risky territory. At the same time, you need to give your team enough time to actually make progress. There is an art to this because the reality is you will probably have multiple action steps going on at the same time with different due dates. I encourage you to establish scheduled, structured progress meetings. I would have these at least monthly, and potentially even weekly. They don’t have to be long and shouldn’t be too long – quality is more important than quantity.
One of the best ways to ensure your success is to have a partner that will hold you accountable for progress and give you feedback. Leaders frequently provide guidance to their team and hold them to a set of standards. They do this because it creates a better team, but who is doing this for the leader? Who does the leader go to for feedback, guidance or explore new ideas? How effective is it when the leader is only accountable to themselves? There are multiple options to address this. As the leader you can:
- Work with a peer in your organization, if one is available,
- Find a mentor that is able to work with you, or
- Engage a qualified business coach
Each person is different and every option might not be the best or even possible for everyone. The goal is to find someone you trust and respect that will provide value to you and your organization. This is someone who will be candid and willing to have difficult conversations with you. Their ultimate goal should be the same as yours – do what is best for you and your organization. Remember, best does not equal easiest. By adding accountability to the action steps equation, you greatly improve the chances of success.
Unless you are a member of the “lucky” group, preparing for the future and constantly adapting your business will be an ongoing necessity. Those that accept this and take the necessary steps to become proficient at handling it will have the highest probability of continued success. Your first step is right in front of you – take it!
If you would like to discuss these steps in further detail or would like some assistance taking that first step, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I am here to help you!