If you were starting a new business today, what would your goals be? Would you go all out to thrive right away, or would you focus on doing what you could in order to survive for the long term?
Famous and successful businesses usually make their mark by being exceptional in a given category. They are either the product leader, service leader, customer experience leader, or cost leader in their industry. They focus maniacally on separating themselves from their competitors by putting all of their eggs in a given basket and being the best of the best in that category. This separation does require a tremendous investment of money, time, and energy by a lot of people over a long period of time.
Unsuccessful and failed businesses often use that same strategy. They went all in to be the best in a certain category and they were very good in that area. However, for one reason or another, that isn’t what customers wanted at that time and their businesses failed completely.
An alternative is a hybrid strategy. Operate within tight financial parameters and provide as good of a service or a product as you can at as good of a price and customer experience as you can offer. Keep the cost of running your business down and do as well as you can with the customers you have. This may not be as sexy as investing in your business beyond anything realistic, but it may help you survive and slowly build your business until you can afford to truly separate your organization from the competition.
A great book on this topic is “The Strategy Paradox” by Michael Raynor.
In the mid-1950s, Walt Disney did borrow some money to fund the building of Disneyland. In the late 1990s, Steve Jobs did borrow some money to fund new product development at Apple. But they were limited amounts and they were invested very carefully. The payoff was enormous. They both made it clear to their employees to be cost-conscious and then they maintained financial rigor even after they had great financial success.
Putting parameters on spending causes people to really think through how they will create more value for other people. These clear parameters cause people to become more innovative.
Today the United States federal government spends 40% more than it takes in every year. That approach has created a $16.3 Trillion debt. And because it has no real limit on how much debt it will carry it has, for all intents and purposes, no economic parameters on spending. Consequently, the same problems we’ve had as a country for decades remain in place with no innovative solutions coming forward. Not only are we forfeiting our future as a country, we are also robbing ourselves of the type of discipline necessary to truly innovate as a country. Quite literally the end of debt creation for the U.S. is nowhere in sight. We simply keep talking about the debt, not reducing it or putting in firm parameters.
If you could pose a question to some of or all of the people in your organization that could help move your business forward in a sustainably profitable way, what would it be?
Take some to craft it.
Here are a few that come to my mind:
In order to significantly improve the first two minutes of a potential customer’s experience with us, what two things do you think we should do?
If we could only do three things that you feel would make our organization more profitable in a sustainable way, what would those three things be?
Without spending any more time or money than we invest right now, what two things do you think we can do increase value to our customers?
Once you land on your question, give it a test drive. Go ask five or six people in your organization the question and see what kind of responses you get. You might want to give it to them and then follow up for their answers 48 hours later. If the question resonates with those folks, you may want to ask even more people.
Leadership development is a good thing. It’s important to continually develop your ability to influence how other people think so they make decisions that improve results in a sustainable manner.
Leadership development happens in many ways: reading books, work experiences, volunteer community efforts, spending time with a mentor in your organization, attending a seminar, working with an outside coach, and so on. Don’t ever feel you’ve “arrived” as a leader. Instead focus on always being willing to learn how to be a more effective leader.
However, at the end of the day it is not enough to just develop yourself as a leader. That’s just the starting point. At the end of each day, the key is to make an impact as a leader. APPLY WHAT YOU’VE BEEN DEVELOPING. In the absence of application or the waiting for the perfect moment that never arrives, you have not acted as a leader.
Today try to do something that might have an impact on how other people think. Have a phone conversation, meet with someone face-to-face, make a presentation, write an article, send someone a handwritten letter, or DO something else that might impact other people. Actually the best way to develop yourself as a leader is to try to impact how other people think and then to reflect on what you’ve done and determine how you can be more effective as a leader the next time.