A Little Curiosity

A “What if Moment”

Countless conversations in executive offices and around conference tables in small and large businesses seek to better understand and quickly resolve problems, ultimately to improve performance. Maybe it is sparked with a concerning trend, a customer or employee complaint, or just a little curiosity. I call it a “What If Moment.”

However the process of change starts, it is central to improving employee engagement, targeted business outcomes, and numerous financial metrics.

In a business setting, discovery is the process of gathering relevant facts to increase awareness of existing structural, behavioral and/or market challenges that are or would impede the attainment of a given business goal or objective. Essentially, by increasing awareness a path forward is discovered.

Sometimes business challenges are quickly understood and placed in the rear view mirror. Sometimes the challenges are more complex, or the requisite talents, experiences, and other resources necessary to solve the problem are not available given the volume of routine business activities. Today, many businesses run lean.

In the more complex scenario, many business owners outsource change management projects to more fully understand the specific challenge and either resolve it or receive a road map for the company to marshal efforts to accomplish a given goal or objective.

Understanding “where you are today” (Present State) is especially foundational for external consultants to solve problems and move a client’s performance to “where you want to go,” a desired Future State. This understanding or discovery can happen really fast, but don’t cut it short. In almost every endeavor, how you prepare signals the quality of the outcome you seek.

You might decide to remodel your home, but carpenters, painters, and all contractors take measurements and prepare surfaces to be revitalized. It is the same with a wide variety of change management projects – be sure to fully understand first – before you make change happen.

Elevated performance will follow.


Critical Junctures

A New Business is Born …

You have a brilliant idea, rough out your vision, file organizational documents, set up a checking account and all the rest. In a matter of a few days, your business is already unique. Over months or years, with perseverance and many struggles, it takes off. You land more clients, hire employees, create physical and financial assets, and business activities are increasingly complex.

Your original north star vision may be the same or it has changed, but your business has grown. Your needs are different. Maybe you recognize internal challenges and market opportunities not being met. Maybe the last two quarters were sub-par on revenue and/or profitability, or a key client or two is looking at your competition. You know that your top line indicators and bottom-line metrics could be much better.

So, what to do next? Maybe you step back and ask the same questions you posed as you started the business.

  • What? Your product/service/value proposition.
  • Who? Your target clients. Your competition. Your vendor partners.
  • Where? Defining your geographic market. Your resources to fulfill promises made.
  • When? When can you achieve the next objective, and the next?

As your business matures, two other questions become more pressing.

  • Why are you doing this? Maybe you have bigger goals looming around the corner.
  • And, maybe most importantly, HOW?

At critical junctures in business, taking a critical look at your team’s leadership, strategies, culture, processes, capabilities, and behaviors is a good first step. Then apply the same critical look at your market and target customers. Those answers may frame new possibilities.   

THE PEOPLE CORNER – A Clearer Business Future

Ask entrepreneurs about the reasons they started their businesses, and more than likely it is about possibilities. Doing what excites them personally, making customers and building business relationships puts their imagination into action.

Business leaders need to understand the reasons why prospective customers will buy goods and services from them – and how their business is differentiated from the competition.

Business plans and strategy are fundamental, but specific cultural elements drive each enterprise to failure or success. In the final analysis, the daily actions of employees carrying out the vision of the company will tally the score. [LINK]

Entrepreneurs assume most of the risk to start a business, which makes their personal views of the possible future so critical. Just like eyesight clarifies the pitfalls of the road, leaders of businesses need foresight and information to develop the “human element” to make their businesses thrive.

At all times human beings are both rational and emotional. Business plans must make intellectual sense to employees, but the personal reasons for each employee to achieve the plans will make the difference for company success.

Children are notorious for asking “why” so they can develop a personal sense of the world. Employees of companies are the same. If they cannot “buy into” and act out the business plan – the business will stall. Disengaged employees do not serve customers well.

Entrepreneurs must avoid the pitfalls of over confidence, and being too self-reliant on their own ideas. It is difficult for any leader alone to do sufficient self-analysis and introspection to identify personal, business, and employee strengths and limitations. It is one thing to set the vision for the company, it is another thing to inspire employees to carry it out.

Objective outsiders can bring learning, facilitation and coaching to challenge assumptions, unchecked egos and limited thinking. Professional perspective can help everyone understand the business past, clarify the present, and plan for tomorrow.

Remember, there is always a GAP … the difference between the present and what the future could be.