The market always turns

the market turnsThere aren’t too many industries that have no market cycles. Some are more significant than others. Over time, as business grows and changes, some companies lose sight of the market, how they are positioned and their cost structure. As a result, erosion starts to occur in the profitability of the business.

This is the point when many companies are bought. But even if a sales transaction doesn’t take place, it’s time to put some tension back into the business. Why? Because the market always turns at some point and if not addressed, the business may go out of business due to high fixed costs and lack of market insight.

What does this mean? With lack of market insight, the company will miss the market signals that indicate it is time to adjust the business as the market demand starts to drop. With a high cost structure, the company may not have enough time to adjust before it runs out of cash. Thus becoming another company that doesn’t make it through a market cycle.

This is where it is critical to have a focused management team that has a strong sense of urgency. You never know when the market is going to turn, so acting with a sense of urgency as if the market turn is today or tomorrow, will position the company well for when it actually does turn. How are you positioning your company for market turns?

You don’t have to have the whole answer – just start

don't wait - just startI was recently speaking with someone about an effort that is getting underway that can have a transformational impact on their business over the longer term. But, there isn’t a long-term owner at this point. The short-term perspective is a couple of discrete actions that can get the ball rolling and ultimately support the longer term. The company will make some progress if it only does the short tem work, but the impact of the work will diminish over time without the longer term. The question: do something or do nothing?

It is funny how many times over the last few months I’ve come across this exact dilemma in one form or another. My advice is always to start. By getting the ball rolling, progress starts. It ultimately allows for further critical thinking that creates better focus, revisions and course corrections. It may not always work, but insights will be gained along the way. In the case above, the work started and internal support started to build, even without a long-term owner. The key was to just get started. How are you starting things without having the 100% solution?

Don’t let a good crisis go to waste

Don't let a good crisis go to wasteThere is always a point in time in business where market forces create tension in the business. It may be the loss of a significant customer, a cyclical downturn, or maybe the introduction of a new competitor or product. The point is – you now have something putting pressure on your business demanding immediate attention. It is a reason to come together as a company and do something different. It is the case for change.

Making change happen is one of the toughest things you can do in business. People want a reason to do something different – a case for change or a burning platform. It is comfortable to do the same thing – call it routine or habit. And doing something different takes a lot of effort.

Have you had a crisis recently? A big one doesn’t come around every day. So leverage it while it is there. It can make the difference in your organization surviving.

Did you ask?

Did you ask?A recent conversation focused on a group that was trying to expand its membership base. It was fairly narrowly focused, and the goal was to target a specific demographic. Target after target was declining the opportunity to join. And the members were not sure why. Was there truly a desire to expand? For some yes, but for others, no – they were happy with the current composition. Likely, this was conveyed when guests/target members attended.

The bigger issue was nothing changed to welcome the target demographic. Individuals were invited to attend events that were unintentionally designed to turn them off. No-one had ever asked the target individuals about their interests. And there was no intention to do so.

Whether growing in a new market, or in an existing market, understanding what is valued is critical to gaining traction. Simply asking what is valued goes a long way to delivering a product or service that is valued by the market. How do you gain insight into what key constituents value?

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

self fulfilling prophecyOver the last several weeks, I’ve been in a number of conversations where a person talked about how they couldn’t do something, or they see people behave toward them in a way that is in opposition to what they want. In each case, the person, when relaxed and in a positive frame of mind, did exactly what they said they couldn’t do. In focusing on what they didn’t want, they created a mindset that caused the exact results they said they didn’t want. A self-fulfilling prophecy. The miss is that if the focus was on the positive, so to would be the results.

This same approach happens in business. Whether a positive or a negative focus, the conditions are created to generate outcomes. They may be in opposition to the stated goals, because the focus is not put in the right place.  And amazingly, when the focus is on the positive with a can do attitude, the results follow. How do you ensure that you have the outcomes you want in your business and the self-fulfilling prophecy is the one you want?

Do you lose sight of what is around you by focusing too much?

don't loose sight by focusing too muchThere is a pretty typical pattern. People come to Zumba for the first time, find a spot in the back and try to figure out what to do. They focus intently on the instructor, trying to match the movements while those around them move with ease as they have done it many times before. A point typically comes when the group is moving to the left and the person is a few steps behind and moves to the right, creating a near collision. People who go to the class regularly know who is new and to watch out for them. The person who is new to class has no idea they have nearly caused a collision. They are focused so intently on figuring out what to do, they have lost track of their surroundings.

This can happen in business too. Whether it is a new industry, a new person in a new position, a new product launch, etc. Making sure mechanisms are in place to keep focus on the broader business while a new element is introduced is critical to the long-term success of the business. How are you making sure you don’t lose sight of the broader perspective by focusing too much?

How to kill an idea

How to kill an ideaYou’ve probably seen this one before. Someone has a great idea. They are really excited about it and think it can have a big impact. They bring the idea forward and the response is: “That sounds like a great idea. Let’s get a committee together (or send it to a specific committee) to see if it is viable.” And then the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach hits. The death of an idea. The committee.

Don’t get me wrong, committees can be a great thing if done right. They can bring together a bunch of different perspectives to round out ideas and figure out how to make ideas work – if that is the focus. Many times though, committees can get bogged down with no real charter to make progress. As a result, ideas die and people become dis-incentivized. How do you make sure you aren’t killing good ideas in your business through creating structures that aren’t designed to facilitate progress?

Change – it is like driving a manual transmission

change is like driving a stick shiftIt was decades ago, but I remember it like yesterday. I had mastered driving an automatic transmission. It was time to learn how to drive a manual transmission – or as I call it, the stick shift. Down we went to the mall where there was plenty of parking lot to practice. It was flat, there were no obstacles and conducive to starting and stopping without pressure. Things were going well, so it was time to drive home.

Turning into traffic, the lurching began. Letting off the clutch and pressing on the gas the car lurched forward throwing us toward the dash, then back against the seats, then toward the dash, then back again. I finally got the car rolling in a smooth manner. And there it was. The hill. With the stop light at the top. And it was red. Gulp. The pit formed in my stomach. How was I going to get the car up the hill without rolling back into the car behind me? The car rolled back, then stalled. I started it up again, it rolled back, horns blaring, and the dreaded stall. It was clear I wasn’t going to get up the hill, so we changed seats. Defeated for the day, I eventually learned how to drive a stick shift successfully, but there were many more adventures of lurching, rolling back and stalling before I finally got there.

Driving change initiatives in business can be a lot like driving a stick shift if you haven’t done it before. Things can lurch around, throwing people back and forth, stalling and sometimes rolling backward. It’s easy to stop and give up. The trick is learning how to let go of the old ways while accelerating in a coordinated fashion so it is a smooth transmission without lurching around. With practice, you’ll find the right rhythm and eventually the lurching will be gone. And the added bonus – once you figure it out, you can get out of the blocks faster than an automatic transition, giving you the ability to outpace your competition. Have you learned to drive change in your organization like a manual transmission?

Finding delight in the small stuff

finding delight in the small stuffDuring a recent walk with my dog, I came across a family. Mom and dad were strolling slowly in front of the toddler. She was stumbling down the path as little ones do when they are finding their legs. As we approached, she pointed to my dog with glee. She smiled broadly and started giggling. She was having a grand time and the sight of a friendly dog made it all the better. Then just like that, she was on to the next attraction. What a way to go through the day – finding delight in all the small stuff around! How are you finding delight in your day?

Going the extra mile

going the extra mileIt was an afternoon flight. And it was going to be a long week, so I paid a little more to get an upgrade. It was too late for lunch, and too early for dinner, so I didn’t expect anything in the way of food service.   To my surprise, they were serving a salad, garlic bread and a brownie. While I wasn’t hungry, the chocolate caught my attention. With my wheat allergy, I have to be careful, so I asked if it was gluten free. And to my disappointment, it was not. Oh well.

I quickly moved on to an intriguing conversation with my seat mate. About an hour later the flight attendant circled back with two mini chocolate bars – one for me and one for my seat mate. It was a little thing, but she made my day! She didn’t have to, but she went the extra mile to provide excellent customer service. Alaska Airlines prides themselves on their customer service. It is particularly impressive when the stated values align with actions and experiences. And in this case it did. How do you go the extra mile for the folks in and around your business?

p.s. I did write to Alaska about the experience!