What Business Are You Really In?

By Bob Garrow

Imagine people not knowing what business they are in! Sadly, that is not all that unusual. Firstly, staff members in today’s organizations, like their clothes closets and garages at home, tend to lose their focus over time. Secondly, markets change little by little, day by day which can, over time, mean that an organization is no longer focused on the right customers or customer needs.

Consider the following real life case: People were too busy to get their jobs done. Customer service people struggled to serve small businesses, who had been their first customers when their business was founded. Commissioned sales people strove to generate larger sales orders from larger customers. The plant employees were caught in the middle, unable to serve either type of customers without delaying orders for the other.

Fewer than 15% of the company’s customers represented 85% of its sales. These customers also represented the company’s future growth potential. Sales to the remaining 85% of the customers consisted of small and unprofitable orders.

Hidden in the company’s product line was a simple but vital product used in emergency health care. This product rode in the back of every ambulance in North America. In summary, the company needed to refocus itself to serve its most valued clients and to capitalize on the product that represented its greatest potential for growth.

Ask yourself, “what business are you really in and why?”: This question is important because your organization’s key strategic decisions will all flow from your collective view of what business you are really in. Any confusion here will show up big time in day to day decision making, day after day, week after week until it is resolved. Greater clarity about what business you are really in will help you with the following challenges:

  • Focusing everyone on your organization’s biggest priorities.

  • Reducing the potential for conflicts.

  • Delegating decision making authority and accountabilities throughout your organization.

  • Selecting which new business opportunities to pursue.

  • Crafting your strategy and marketing messages.

Think Pirates: Pirates knew what business they were in and every pirate knew what was expected of him. Before each sailing, pirates went through their own business planning model. They discussed and voted on where they would sail, their code of conduct, and how they would divide their treasures. Finally, they elected their captain. Only then were they able to sail forth to capture treasures!

Below are three Pirate Leadership Principles to adopt to capitalize on what business you are really in:

1) Get On Board: Success requires a shared buy in to a common purpose, goals and strategy. Lead your leaders through the following strategic planning process:

  • Undertake a SWOT analysis to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

  • Clearly identify your core skills. (What you do best and do on a daily basis that is of benefit to your customers.)

  • Identify and describe what markets you currently serve, including how you serve each market and your competitive advantages and disadvantages in each market. To do this, look at yourself and your competitors through your customers’ eyes. Explore other business concepts and markets where you might use your core skills to profitably serve customers.

  • Crystallize your purpose as an organization and develop a mission statement to set it out clearly.

  • Set a few bold long term objectives that you want to achieve. Be prepared to annually set specific goals to measure your ongoing success in fulfilling your purpose.

  • Craft a strategy or game plan for successfully fulfilling your purpose in your chosen business.

  • Develop Action Plans to implement your chosen strategies, clearly setting out what must be done, by whom, and by when.

2) Stay the Course: Articulate your purpose, goals and strategy at every opportunity. Ensure everyone’s ongoing commitment. Review your progress and fine tune when necessary. This is an essential aspect of leadership. Insufficient effort here will mean that people may revert back to their old ways of doing things.

3) Share the Treasures: Early pirate captains learned that the more treasures they shared, the more treasures they found. Since then, we have learned that it takes more than money to energize people. Once people have money, they want more than money. Be creative in developing fun ways to recognize and reward successful implementation of your new business plan. A word to the wise, nothing beats recognition and praise and the feeling of being a member of a team with important work to do.

The outcome of the three Pirate Leadership Principles outlined above should include the following:

  • A clearer and more widely understood basis for your success.

  • A clear plan to best capitalize on what business you are really in.

  • A more focused management team.

  • A more profitable future.

Aye me hearties, here’s wishing ye smooth sailing and rich treasures!

Read other articles and learn more about Bob Garrow.

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