During my tenures as CEO of three different mid-market companies, I, like you, was always striving to improve every facet of my business.
One of the challenges I faced during my early years as the CEO was prioritizing the areas of the business that my team and I wanted to improve. (In most organizations a key role of the CEO is to help his team prioritize its key challenges and know which ones to address and in what order.) There were always numerous choices, so I typically relied on my intuition and logic to determine the sequence. Sometimes we improved the most pressing issues, but sometimes what we thought was pressing turned out to have little impact on the overall business.
From my decades of focus on this, I’ve been able to put together a cheatsheet (or maybe “roadmap” is a better term) to help you determine which area of your business to prioritize and the steps to take to improve it.
It might sound trivial, but the key is to focus on what you’re thinking/feeling about your business. As you think about 2015, what’s worrying you most? What thoughts are constantly on your mind when you lay awake at night? (Your intuition is critical to your decision-making process – trust your intuition, but remember, it’s hard to teach others your intuition. Others don’t trust it as much as you do, so don’t tell your team, “My intuition says…” Use it, but don’t announce it.)
While every business is unique, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses, I’ve categorized into 4 areas what I sense are the biggest challenges facing most CEOs and their leadership teams. They’re grouped into one of four different feelings – see which ones are yours:
- Are your margins getting squeezed? Are you struggling to achieve profitability? Do you lay awake at night thinking about financial instability? Are you concerned about the long-term viability of your business model?
- Are your thoughts focused on how to acquire more customers? Do you have an insatiable appetite to grow — to get bigger and gain market share?
- Are you feeling stress and frustration because your key people aren’t on the same page you? Are you frustrated that they are struggling to execute your strategy? Do you find yourself thinking more about your people and wishing they would perform differently or act differently, as opposed to focusing on your markets, operations, or competition?
- Are you worried about your operations, and trying to get your arms around the chaotic nature of your business? Are you overwhelmed with projects and activity? Are you worried that you or your team or your company has bitten off more than they can chew? Are you constantly stressed, wondering how you’re going to get things done?
Think about which grouping best represents what you’re concerned about in 2015. If you strongly identify with one of these, then it warrants your immediate attention. If you have a legitimate problem in one of these areas, failure to correct it could be very damaging to your business – or possibly fatal.
Here’s what could happen:
- If you’re feeling the symptoms from group 1, there’s a potential for your business to collapse at some point in the future – the lack of a meaningful foundation can result in random strategic decisions that can damage or ruin your business.
- If you’re feeling the symptoms from group 2, there’s a potential for your business to starve in the future — you’ll start running out of customers and begin shrinking.
- If you’re feeling the symptoms from group 3, there’s a potential for your business to suffocate — failing from the inability of your people to work together.
- If you’re feeling the symptoms of group 4, there’s a potential for your business to choke — the chaos and stress will begin causing problems with your quality, margins, brand and profitability.
I don’t mean to alarm you; almost every leader of a mid-market company feels the symptoms from one or more of these groups at some point in the company’s lifetime. The key is to recognize the symptoms and understand what corrective actions need to be taken to prevent a catastrophe.
Even big companies — worldwide brands that have been trusted and valued by millions — have been forced into bankruptcy because of a failure in one of these areas. Enron and WorldCom are two companies that didn’t survive. General Motors and Rolls-Royce are two that came back from the brink of failure and continue in the marketplace today.
Earlier I mentioned that there is a course of action to resolve symptoms in all four of these groups. Here is a high-level overview of the solutions for each:
- If you’re feeling the symptoms from group 1 (potential collapse), you must focus on your company’s foundation. You and your team must be able to clearly articulate your company purpose, your vision and core values. Once you have these in place, your decisions about your business model will become much clearer. Companies that are constantly tinkering with their business model without having a strong and defined foundation typically fail.
- If you’re feeling the symptoms from group 2 (potential starvation), you must focus on winning mind share to influence your market. Don’t run out and immediately ramp up your sales and marketing activity; put the strategic before the tactical and revisit your market positioning and brand strategy. Nail these and you should improve the results of all of your marketing and sales tactics over the next few years.
- If you’re feeling the symptoms from group 3 (potential suffocation), you must begin taking the guesswork out of managing your people. Advances in psychology have now made it possible to create a blueprint of a person so you can understand how they’re going to react in certain situations, how to properly motivate them, and how to communicate with them most effectively. This will resolve the issues with your people. Use today’s powerful validated assessment tools and a trained expert to prevent suffocation.
- If you’re feeling the symptoms from group 4 (potential choking), you need to focus on improving your operational decisions. The best place to start is by obtaining new sets of numbers, delivered to you in real time, that you and your team can use to make more accurate operational decisions on a day-to-day basis. This will help you better understand, prioritize and improve your operational workflows and reduce your chaos.
I cover this topic in greater detail in my book ShortTrack CEO (along with my co-authors Jim Sagar and Nick Setchell). You can download a free copy here. If you’ve already read it and would like hands-on guidance to implement the concepts in your business, connect with me.