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It seems that the majority of discussions I have with business owners ultimately wind up in an area I will call “Clarity and Commitment”. Like urban sprawl, many businesses evolve over time to include a portfolio mix of clients, revenue streams, and employees. I am certain, as I have confirmed, that if you ask most business owners, the business they currently have is not exactly the “ideal” business they would like to have. This isn’t to say they want unfair profits, or reduced efforts to delight their customers, or that they don’t feel they should have to inspire their employees, it just simply means that where they are is not where they might have chosen to be – given that hindsight is 20/20 and armchair quarterbacking is much easier than when you are dodging tackles, recovering from a blitz, or simply trying to keep the ball in play and move it down the field.
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One of the issues I like to consider with business owners is areas where they are willing to let go. There is a saying that has stuck with me over the years that goes something like, “To discover new lands you have to be willing to let go of the sight of the shore.” What strikes me about this concept is that many things we have done, and continue to do, are a result of “comfort”. We get used to them being in place (like a touchstone) and some point accept them as constants. Interestingly, clearing out some items from a fully packed “space” can make room for new and more interesting items. In fact, the things people might most desire may require clearing out a lot of room to make space for new things. So, what clients, services, products, vendors, expenses, revenue sources, equipment, and/or employees would you be willing to let go of to make room for new and better ones? This examination is rarely comfortable for most people because it usually means the “end” of something that might be quite comfortable or comforting and could hurt people’s feelings. And most business owners have huge hearts.
Don’t Throw the Baby Out…
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Just because the assessment (or evaluation) of something, or someone, may lead to considering an “upgrade”, don’t underestimate the possibility of remediating what is already in place. For instance, although it might take some serious rehabilitation, there is nothing quite like the renewed commitment and loyalty of clients, vendors, and employees if they are made aware of the new realities and given a chance to step up to the plate. My experience is that many times they have been waiting for the business owner to make the commitment to grow and are excited to invest themselves in taking on a new challenge. Sometimes, they have also grown complacent and perhaps a bit bored of their current assigned responsibilities. For many, this can be a semi-safe opportunity to challenge themselves and know that they will be recognized for their contributions. For the others that can’t (or won’t) rise to the occasion, this might be the easiest and most honorable way to help them decide that they might be a better fit with some other organization(s) and find their way to the door on their own.
Clarity and Commitment
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When I use the word “clarity” I simply mean this: If a customer where asked what your business was about specifically and why they were a good fit as a customer of your business, could they be successful and would all your customers respond similarly? In the market, many organizations have been given the advice to remain general in their messaging because they don’t want to miss potential opportunities for additional business. Unfortunately, as balanced equations go, this also means they will attract business that is a bad fit. The hope is that a disproportionate amount of good work comes through the door and a disproportionate amount of bad work doesn’t show up or is filtered out before it sets up like kudzu in the business and starts to consume more than its fair share of the businesses resources. My experience is that actually what happens is that the bad business shows up in larger numbers than the good business because it doesn’t define itself well either and is looking for a “deal”. Like smelling fear in the wild, the bad business senses the opportunity to take advantage of the lack of clarity and like a cancer, sets up shop to get more than a fair deal for itself while the good business relationships end up sacrificing in terms of attention, service, and proper recognition. Thus, if the community that you serve knows what you are looking for, why you are looking for it, and how best to direct you to it, you might find that they can help you grow in the most healthy way possible. They will also know that you are committed to the same thing they are.
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Although the marriage analogy may be taking it a bit too far, it is probably a reasonable concept to start with. Deep down, people want and need to trust other people. At the core, businesses ARE people. Typically businesses are defined by the people who own or lead them. These people have the ability to reward, punish, and set the example within their business – and the values of the business are projected both in and out of the company as a result of this dynamic. Businesses and the people in them, count on the business for certain things – especially predictable behavior. While times are good and everything is going their way, people don’t necessarily question the company they are keeping. However, at the first sign of trouble, the business is tested in numerous and subtle ways. Finances may be tested, the media may test it, employees, vendors, supply chain, and even the agencies in governments may test it. Ultimately, what will stand out will be the resolve of the organization which emanates from the commitment the organization’s leader or owner as core values. Historically, this was about doing the right thing, keeping promises, and making sure the customer received a FAIR deal. The question to ask your customers is this: What commitment do you believe we make to you when you purchase good and/or services from us? You will likely be surprised (good or bad) by the answers that people give you. This could be the most important question you ever ask anyone in which you you are in a relationship.
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Although it sounds good on the surface to pitch the bad apples, as I am sure the sailors of yore were challenged to do when far out at sea, it is still disquieting to imagine the risk inherent in letting something “in hand” go for something better that isn’t in hand yet. How many of us are comfortable with the saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”? In contrast, the proverbs would say that the closed fist holds less than the opened hand!!! Life isn’t about living through proverbs and the real conundrum lies in the challenge of “letting go” of the old while “picking up” the new. Critically important in picking up new is picking up the RIGHT new. This means knowing as much about what to pick up as what NOT to pick up. Which takes us back to the first point, know what you have that you don’t want more of and be clear about making sure your messaging and clientele don’t reflect what you don’t want. This also means that there should be extreme clarity about what you DO want and why you want it. And be committed to something that you can articulate and demonstrate. I was struck today by an experience I had had years ago with Men’s Warehouse – I had heard the CEO on a commercial say something about him guaranteeing my satisfaction or that I could call him. Well, it happened that I had a less than stellar experience at two of his stores on one day – so I called him, left a voicemail, and he called me back personally in less than an hour! Now, no matter what your job or responsibility, that is the Clarity and Commitment we should all aspire to!