One of my coaching clients recently asked what single piece of advice I most often give to business leaders. Without pausing, I answered, “Pay attention.”
To what? To cues signaling conditions that, if addressed, could lead to exponential advancement for the enterprise and, if ignored, could result in its decline or collapse. A sustained increase in customer service complaints, for example, might suggest the need for a process overhaul… or a more wide-reaching technology upgrade. Likewise, employee complaints about work overload could signal the need to simply clarify roles… or to address a company-wide work-life balance issue.
So, while it is crucial that business leaders be able to recognize and capably lead their enterprises through dicey transitions, it is equally essential that they know which ones to initiate and when. The overworked business owner who postpones delegating appropriate responsibilities could be risking the health of the business. On the other hand, a Board that responds to executive overload by hiring “new blood” too soon is at risk of sacrificing the entrepreneurial zeal that launched the venture in the first place. So, what’s an executive to do?
See Something? Do Something!
Recognizing what and when to change is not a process of invention, but of attention. Even the best leaders can’t arbitrarily schedule a time to revamp the product delivery process, incrementally increase headcount, or introduce a new technology, but they can be aware and alert enough to discern when the time may be right to initiate these or other pivotal initiatives.
How? By following 3 intentional practices:
1. Cultivate and maintain a Deliberate Awareness of consequential cues that could signal a reason for change.
2. Regularly Analyze and Prioritize these cues according to their potential to advance or hinder the company’s success.
3. Take Informed Action.
A business’s internal operating conditions, properly interpreted, are powerful indicators of where it is in its evolution and what should come next. The fact that individuals and teams are performing heroics just to run the day-to-day business, that the “Jack of all trades” is no longer meeting the increasingly specialized needs of the organization, or that internal processes are failing to keep up with demand, may signal that it’s time to propel growth — just as external factors like a new market entrant can serve as instructive springboards to greater competitiveness. (But that’s another article.) And, even though such conditions may signal the time to make a change, deciding what change to make is still a judgment call, and there are multiple ways to address any individual or combination of conditions.
An initial assessment like the one below can be useful for identifying operating conditions that could impact the business. And as the assessment below indicates, there are always going to be some issues that, while not immediately pertinent, may become so in the future. Therefore, a periodic re-assessment is recommended to help leaders maintain a timely list of meaningful factors to consider going forward.
“See Something” Assessment
||Complaints about customer service response have doubled in the last 3 months.
||Our revenues are primarily from existing customers
||We’re seeing habitual invoicing errors.
||My team and I are performing daily heroics just to keep up.
||Our lead to close ratio has been steadily declining.
||Our largest customers will only work with me.
||I’m focused on the internal day-to-day 100% of the time.
|BEWARE! Acting on too many initiatives at once can be dangerous to a company’s health.
Because a review of this assessment will most likely reveal more issues than can be addressed at once, the next steps will be to:
- Prioritize (A,B,C) the identified issues according to their positive/negative impact on customers, company and employees, and select the most critical one to address (See Business Impact Analysis (below).
- Develop a “Do Something Plan” to address “A” and save “B” and “C” for another time.
“SEE SOMETHING? DO SOMETHING!” WORKSHEET
|BUSINESS IMPACT ANALYSIS
||“DO SOMETHING” PLAN
- Predict possible + or – consequences of each cue.
- Prioritize (A,B,C) by impact on customers, company, and employees.
- Select one to address (A)
- Gather and interpret info needed to exploit or remedy the selected situation.
- Implement an informed action plan.
|A) Customer service response complaints have doubled in the last 3 months.
+ Opportunity to stand out against competition in customer service.
-Decline in customer loyalty
-Loss of reputation in market-Reduction in lead conversion and revenue
|A) Customer Service Response Complaints Have Doubled
1. Clarify nature of complaint(s)
- Response time too long?
- Response inadequate?
- Rude response?
2. Identify cause(s) of complaint(s)
- Clumsy process?
- Employee training?
- Inadequate staff?
3. Compare our response time and process vs. industry avg. vs. customer expectation
4. Pinpoint problem: Our customer service process is difficult for customers to follow, involves unclear handoffs and redundant tasks.
- Assign dedicated resources.
- Initiate process improvement plan.
- Map and analyze current process.
- Identify consequential improvement points.
- Redesign the process.
- Implement and communicate change.
- Test and launch the process.
- Evaluate and track improvements.
|B) We’re seeing habitual invoicing errors.
- Customer mistrust and confusion
- Impact on our balance sheet amounts and credit worthiness
|C) My team and I are performing daily heroics just to keep up.
- Employee burnout/attrition
- Lack of focus
- Missed deadlines
Once CEOs have experience implementing the “See Something? Do Something!” process with key internal operating conditions, they should be able to free up more time to identify and exploit or respond to key external conditions as well – regional, national or global. Either way, they can use the process to see what’s coming and react appropriately before it’s too late. They can avoid spending time and money on the wrong solution to the right problem … or on the right opportunity at the wrong time. Not by being clairvoyant. Not through acquisition of any super powers. Just by paying attention. Because no one likes to say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”
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