With the new business year kicking off soon, now is a good time to ask: Are you, your team, and your company ready for success in 2020? You have revenue and expense projections, sales and marketing campaigns, possibly some new hires. You likely have your mission, vision, and values set. Those are all table stakes. But have you looked deeply and critically at your business and the business environment, challenged your assumptions, and built a battle-ready plan for success?
Getting truly ready demands rigor, honesty, and focus. The 20:20 Business Review is a lens I often use with clients to help them gain focus and do the hard work.
Here’s a brief overview of the 7-step process and what it takes to make it work:
Immerse in the business environment. We all know it’s the water we swim in, but we usually don’t stop to see if we are a boiling frog. Even if you’re doing well, you can and eventually will be disrupted. Ask: Who do I really compete with? What are they doing? What is the economic outlook for my region, industry, customers?
Ask your customers…and listen to what they say. It’s one thing to send surveys that yield a Net Promoter Score of 8+, but when did you last spend time asking your customers what they don’t like about your products or services, how you treat them, or what they would like “in a perfect world.” Ask beyond the simple, “Are you happy?” Do this often and listen carefully.
Evaluate your product and services from the outside-in. If your business is successful, you are justified in believing your products and services are good, but complacency is riskier than a faulty business plan. For most companies, both your customers and your team can tell you where you can improve.
Balance your channels. The routes you use to reach customers should be two-way streets – allowing you to learn from every sale and every interaction. The challenge is that if you sell through third parties you’re often flying blind and if you sell direct, you may be drowning in data. Find the mix of channels that keeps you close to customers.
Rehire (or fire) your team. Few companies know exactly who their must-retain players are, or who should be steered to a new role or a new company – nor do they have a clear process for figuring it out. Fewer still ask the must-retain players what they don’t like about their jobs, how you manage and develop them, and what they would like “in a perfect world.” Treat top players like you are recruiting them to work for you. Respectfully help others find ways to improve, a better role, or a different company.
Stress-test your business plan. Your business plan should answer the question: “What would a company look like that would put our business out of business?” Build a business plan that does just that. Ask, “What would we do if revenues suddenly dropped 20%?” Do you have plans if you unexpectedly lost a key customer?
Understand your brand. Your brand is what bonds you with your customers and represents your reputation in the world at large. All the other work you do to sharpen your focus will strengthen your brand. Make sure you understand exactly what it is, find the best way to describe it, and tell everyone about it.
How you apply this lens is critical. Don’t isolate your senior team in a hotel for 3 days and emerge with a plan. Go deeper, take the time you need, and follow this three-step process:
Reach out to your employees. Draw on the intelligence and depth of your company through working groups, surveys, and listening tours. It not only yields a better plan, you also get buy-in and commitment if they have been asked for their input. For your plan to work, everyone has to own it and be an advocate.
Be disciplined. Establish accountable teams, set timelines, provide (and protect) the needed resources, identify and remove barriers, and apply clear metrics. While this is of course the role of any CEO, it demands discipline. Employees up and down the line will appreciate the objectivity and support.
Tell everyone. The entire company – and your customers – need to know where you are going, why it makes sense, and how it is good for them.
A final suggestion. To keep perspective and hold your feet to the fire, consider bringing in a trusted “outsider.” You live inside your business every day and, as objective as you may be, you can never be an outsider. An outsider can help create clarity around objectives and facilitate a proven, structured process. They can also help ensure that all voices are heard, and that one team member’s voice does not dominate or misdirect the conversation (least of all the CEO’s), to help you find true alignment.
Here’s to a successful 2020!
Sage Partner Cedric Crocker contributed this Sage Advice. He helps scaling and established media, professional services, digital learning/ed tech, and publishing enterprises globally to grow.