Basic Business Cents
Are you in the business of manufacturing buggies or people movers? Most industry-changing innovations come from without the industry. Why? Because companies are so focused on their competition that they lose focus on the needs of their customers.
You can never win a race by following the leader, yet we do it all the time in business. We spend too much time studying the competition; trying to anticipate their next move. We should be aware of competition and their trends, but we need to spend more time studying the customers, desired customers, and their trends. There is no substitute to holding dialog with your key customers. They may not know their real needs in the future but you will not know that until you talk to them.
Many organizations today find themselves in a mature or declining industry that does not bode well for the future. It may be that the more important aspect of the business is that the leadership is mature and not providing fresh direction.
Imitation of your competition may be the sincerest form of flattery but it will not get you ahead. “If you want to get ahead, you have to get ahead” said W. Edwards Deming. You need to challenge conventional wisdom of how to run your business. You need to develop a creative plan for the future.
As with any plan, top management needs to share an articulated aim of the organization around five years forward. This is easier said than done as it requires stepping out of your comfort zone and think outside your usual framework. By asking difficult questions of yourself and agonizing over the proper answers, you can stretch your imagination and develop an inspiring, compelling, and memorable aim for all employees to strive toward. Some examples are:
- What business are you in?
- What business should you be in?
- How are you differentiated from your competition?
- Which customers do you desire to serve in 5 years?
- What will be their wants and needs?
- By what means will you reach them? On-line sales or promotion? Electronic word-of-mouth? Some method not yet available or thought of?
- What will be the required delivery method and in what time?
- What do you have to create to satisfy those needs?
- Is the technology required in view or does it have to be invented?
- In what areas do you need to build your skill base to be successful?
- How can you be financially successful meeting those customer needs?
- Do you have a financial projection for the next year by month including cash flow?
- Do you have sufficient cash capital to carry out your plans?
- What are your expectations for profitably for the next five years?
- In what way can you define your market so that you can dominate?
- What changes are required in hiring, compensating, communicating, and treatment of employees?
- Are you having fun?
Once the aim is shared and enthusiastically accepted by all employees, then a strategy can be developed to reach that aim in the 5-year time frame. Involve all employees as each of them possess a good brain and can contribute good tactics and strategy. They are closest to the work and probably closest to customers. By participating in the development of the strategy, all employees are more likely to execute the strategy. They will help management keep everyone’s attention focused on reaching the aim in the planned timeframe and achieving success.
All work is a series of processes that need to be constantly improved and innovated. Business strategy is no exception. The first organization to act on a new idea usually reaps the benefit. All we want is an unfair advantage and we can get that with creative planning.