The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out. Great quote from Dee Hock. It is most often very difficult to spot changes in new business performance environment day to day, isn’t it? It is like we are standing too close to see them. But they are certainly there. Over the past decade we’ve seen enormous social, economic, and technological changes that have impacted the business world. These have created both opportunities and challenges for most businesses. But looking back, the vast majority of businesses have changed very little. But look back occasionally to improve business performance.
It has become essential for businesses to institute modernize and keep up with change. While they must continue to understand core practices like finance and sales, there are many old business practices that must be polished, mastered, or at least remastered. Let’s discuss them here:
Prioritize listening and observing
Today, baby boomers are getting much closer to career ending while Gen Y are becoming the most important demographic. These shifts and the needs of both younger as well as aging consumers are putting new demands on businesses.
Business performance … walk the talk
Leaders can’t expect their employees to care about listening and observing if they are not practicing these skills themselves. It is essential if they want to understand the changes going on around them.
Start with employees
Key insights about customers and the market can often come from customer facing employees. Take the Zara retailer for example. They have become the most creative clothing retailer in the world by the fashion demand insights from their customer facing employees.
Business performance measurement … Study from on-line or in person
Businesses must listen and observe customers in an ever expanding number of ways. For example, the internet enables a plethora of means to listen and observe and enables fast, as well as interactive, customer engagement.
Don’t ignore isolated inputs
Insights don’t require large volumes of customers. Occasionally inputs from a small minority represent a key emerging trend. So don’t hesitate to examine these inputs with an open mind.
Business performance analysis … impart the vision
Many businesses have mission statements to communicate their vision. But the problem is they rarely impact decision making of the firm.
More often they make critical decisions based on a handful of key business metrics, key strategic objectives, and by building compromises from conflicting agendas. And that usually represents the best case scenario.
A compelling business vision will do wonders to provide meaningful direction for a business. Take this perspective of Herb Kelleher, the first CEO of Southwest Airlines, as a prime example:
If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.
Over the last decade, there have been enormous advances in learning through the use of the internet. Yet most businesses are not taking anywhere near full advantage of these opportunities. Why not, you may be thinking? Because it is difficult to change old ways of doing things, update old thinking, and leave parochialism behind. But now is the time for businesses to commit to continuous learning using the internet.
Here is what to keep in mind:
Assume increasing adoption by everyone
Whatever level of comfort with the internet technology in your competitors, customers, and employees today, expect it to increase radically in the future. Why? The internet and digital technology are becoming a more integral part in everyone’s lives, especially the millennials.
Connect online with offline
The economics of online activities are compelling, but not everything can or should be done online. Companies need to design learning experiences that use both in ways that make both more effective.
The increase in internet technologies and applications will lead to many more digital interfaces. Think about this for a moment. Employees and customers will not obtain the full benefit of these online resources if they can’t use them effectively. So usability is a concern. Businesses must plan to increase their focus and investment in usability of their continuous learning tools.
Focus on culture
Think about the concept that corporate culture can amplify the value of just about every employee. Are you a believer? We certainly are. How much is it worth to achieve this goal? When you consider this type of impact, it’s clear that business culture is something to pay attention to. But many businesses aren’t that much of believers.
Are your employees giving your company their all? Do they believe that what they’re doing is important? Do they feel appreciated? Do they show up for work each day filled with passion and purpose? If so, you should share employee engagement lessons with this community.
A red flag should go up if you answered “no” to any of these questions. Why? Business owners who aren’t taking care of their employees are missing out on significant cost-savings and profits. And like Mark Twain says, don’t assume you know. Do your research and listen carefully. And then revisit your focus on business culture.
Every business has a culture that helps define a set of rules that influence (maybe dictate?) how the business should operate. Sometimes they are written, sometimes just implied. If your business wants to define business culture more explicitly, then it should document the culture elements and work to develop each of these elements.
The best example of documenting a company’s culture that we have found is one done by Tony Hsieh and Zappos.
An overriding challenge for most of today’s businesses is how to adapt, change, and innovate continuously and at a more rapid rate. Yet in most of the businesses we work with and study, business leadership favors the status quo, change, renewal, and innovation. It is not hard to spot entire industries such as pharmaceuticals, advertising, and banking, where the incumbents are struggling to invent their way out of dying business models.
The barriers from digital disruption, hyper competition, and change are coming down at a rapid pace. In this environment, the returns on incrementalism are heading down while the premium on innovation and change are rapidly increasing. Business innovation and change are mostly afterthoughts, aren’t they? They are definitely not activities that involve most managers even infrequently.
Let’s examine some of the detailed challenges of business innovation and change:
Innovation occurs at the intersection of previously unconnected and unrelated planes of thought.
Does your business regularly, or maybe just occasionally, try innovation exercises? Can you name a couple of the activities you may have performed in these exercises? As part of the innovation processes?
How do you define innovation? We like this definition best: innovation is the process through which value is created and delivered to a community of users in the form of a new solution.
Pay attention to all constituencies
The internet has created an enormous spotlight that quickly illuminates all types of business mistakes, particularly those that that have the largest impact on their customers and communities. In this environment where the costs of these mistakes have increased dramatically, businesses need to expand their attention to all of its constituencies, and not focus just on its owners. And pay much more attention to their social responsibility.
Related post: Adaptation … 5 Awesome Business Examples for Study
How can business leaders make more socially responsible decisions? The key is to assume that there are no secrets. Assume every decision will be examined and known by the public. The bottom line is to make decisions that would make your organization proud to be part of the decision. That is just good business, isn’t it?
So what’s the conclusion? The conclusion is there is no conclusion. There is only the next step. And that next step is entirely up to you.
It’s up to you to keep improving your continuous learning. Lessons are all around you. In many situations, your competitor may be providing the ideas and or inspiration. But the key is in knowing that it is within you already.
All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that struggle gets better every day you learn and apply new lessons.
When things go wrong, what’s most important is your next step.
Test. Learn. Improve. Repeat.
Are you devoting enough energy to improving your continuous learning for yourself and your team?
Do you have a lesson about making your lifelong learning better you can share with this community? Have any questions or comments to add in the section below?
Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change. We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.
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