A few days ago, I was thinking that if I could turn back the clock, there are some things I might have done differently…but then I wonder if I would be as happy today if I had done those things perfectly…looking back some things may appear to be mistakes, but at the time those decisions seemed to be right. And, I know the real mistakes happened when I thought of only the “now”, the “moment”, satisfying the momentary whim….
And I realized that this translates into our business decisions as well.
To be successful in business requires the same amount of discipline we apply to our personal agendas. And that means, not acting on a whim, but applying the same thoughtfulness and objectivity as the most severe scientist applies when proofing a new theory. But, real life business, whether you provide answering services, run an airline, or work as a personal trainer, is not some theoretical formula. In real life business, often we get one shot, one chance, one time to get it right.
Here are five steps to make sure we get it right in business.
1. Ask yourself the hard questions. Questions like, “What would happen if I didn’t do this? What would happen if this succeeds? What are my next steps? What happens if this doesn’t work? Am I providing solutions for my customers or am I only thinking of the now, the moment, today? Really, it’s a way of getting away from seeing your own precepts through rose colored glasses and trying to look at something from all angles. What would be the ideal result? What would be the worst result? What is Plan B? Plan C? And then run these scenarios by your most trusted advisors, whether it’s your management team, your partners, your board, or your spouse…Do an objective analysis and make the best decision you can based on what you know now, projected into your long term plan. Which brings us to step two.
2. How does this help accomplish my long range plan? Layout a map of where your company is now, and where you want it to be. A literal map. Indicate points of interest along the way where your business can pause and take in the scenery, and reassess the route you’ve laid out. Is the route still valid? Can you travel along the original roadmap or have things changed? Has the environment changed? Have new regulations caused you to pull over to the side of the road to take time to deal with the new distractions? You will find, the roadmap to success is not etched in stone, but instead, will need to be continuously checked, monitored, and adjustments made to reach your destination.
3. Ask yourself if you are continuing to cultivate your relationships with your current customers as enthusiastically as you drive your efforts toward creating new relationships with new customers that you are courting. During the 1970’s, the USA experienced a pretty serious recession. Gas prices were rising, interest rates were in the double digits, and there were lines of sometimes hundreds of cars waiting at gas stations to fill their tanks. During this time, it seemed that the cheaper products and services were paid more heed by the marketplace, but as the recession ended, the companies that maintained the strongest commitment to service, to excellence, to delivering the best product or service they could, no matter the cost, to their customer base won out in the end and lasted beyond the recession. The companies that played on price only, slashing costs, throwing customer service out the window fizzled out and disappeared. The lesson here is to commit to your long range plan which should always include delivering excellence to your customers. You can cut costs only so deep in business, but if it starts to erode the superior service your business’s reputation is built on and your customers have come to expect then your business will suffer. You’re living in the short range, spur of the moment – you’re acting to satisfy a momentary whim. Stay true to superior customer service and you’ll win out, in the long run.
4. If you discover you’ve made an error, correct it immediately. Don’t wait. Fix the problem and check the process to ensure that other areas and departments are impacted positively so the problem doesn’t pop up again down the line, so to speak. Each decision we make, whether strategic or tactical will impact departments differently. Some may have more work created as a result, some may be streamlined, but whatever the impact, make sure you use a keen eye and map out the processes if necessary to see where they intersect, where they are dependent upon one another, where they converge, and how this achieves the overall goals of the company. Don’t shuffle a problem under the rug and hope it works itself out; it won’t. Be proactive, fix the process, address the training, and cultivate a culture of “find a solution”. Soon, you will see stars among your own company ranks rising to the occasion to find solutions proactively. And, when that happens, you will have the ability to stave off potential problems and errors before they are made.
5. Lastly, go back to Step One. You are never done asking yourself the hard questions about running your business. Do I raise prices? Do I cut costs? Do I need to offer more training? Am I marketing correctly? Do I need newer technology? Do I need additional suppliers? Running a business isn’t about finding one answer that is satisfactory and then moving on. It’s about always verifying and monitoring whether that first solution, that first answer, still applies. It’s about evolving the processes and developing the people, to keep pace with the changing business environment so that your business stays on course to achieve your goals.
If we could turn the clock back….but in today’s world of short attention spans, global competition, technologies changing overnight, often we only get one shot at getting the important decisions right the first time. Balancing the fact that sometimes you have to act fast in today’s world with an analytical, disciplined eye for detail may not be easy, but if you take the time to weigh in, check your premises, verify your results, and continuously look for improvements, with excellence and superior service to your customers as a strategy for success that never changes, you’ll find that balancing act a little easier every time.
Customers in today’s world may be paying attention to prices, but in the long run, superior service, attention to detail, delivering on your promises, and making sure you address and solve your customers’ issues first and foremost, will definitely give you the edge you’ll want, for your company to be around for the long haul.