Don’t Be A Rule Fool

By Holly G. Green

Are you a rule fool?

Do you continue to use outdated rules (assumptions, beliefs and old data) to guide your decisions regarding products, services, customers, employees, and markets?

Some rules are timeless. Wait your turn. No pushing in line. Yield to pedestrians. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Clearly, these rules are better obeyed than broken. But many of the rules that informed and guided previous generations of business leaders no longer apply. In today’s topsy-turvy business world, if you’re not breaking rules on a regular basis, your customers and markets have probably already left you behind.

Most business leaders intuitively know that they need to do things differently. But many struggle when it comes to determining which rules they should hang on to and which ones they should cast aside for newer ways of thinking.

In working with clients around the world, I have found two areas in particular where it makes sense to throw out the old rulebook in favor of the new. One involves the skills, attitudes and mindsets required to lead companies in rapidly changing markets. The other has to do with how you go about managing people and work processes. In these areas, I recommend forgetting most (or all) of what you think you know and adopting new ways of leading your people and your organization. For example:

Old rule: Maintain the status quo.

New rule:  Strive to create change: Most companies wait for change and then react to it. Instead, learn to anticipate change, plan for it, and make it happen on your terms. If you’re constantly reacting to change, you’re letting others dictate the game for you.

Old rule:  Focus your competitive research inside your industry.

New rule: Stretch your competitive horizons: The next competitor that rocks your world may well come from outside your industry. So it’s no longer enough to study just your obvious competitors. In today’s world, competitors can pop up at any time, anywhere around the globe, and the product or service that puts you out of business probably hasn’t even been invented yet. To stay ahead of the game, monitor new products and trends that occur both inside and outside your industry. In particular, watch for innovations outside your industry that have the potential to eliminate the value you provide customers.

Old rule:  Management’s job is to make decisions.

New rule:  Management’s job is to facilitate decisions made by those closest to the customer: In the old days, when business leaders held most of the information close to their vests, it made sense to make most of the decisions. Today, customers often have more information about your products and markets than you do. And with the advent of social media, you have even less control over the messages people hear about your products and services. Your job is to put employees in a position to make the best possible decisions for the customer and for the company.

Old rule:  Avoid conflict.

New rule:  Rock the boat!  Most people associate conflict with problems. In reality, conflict creates opportunity to get the real issues out in the open and help people work through them. It all depends on how you manage it. Today’s market leaders purposefully create conflict and manage it constructively so that people gain alignment around where the company needs to go and what they need to do to get there.

Old rule:  Tell employees what to do, when to do it and how to do it.

New rule:  Give employees the resources and support they need, then stand back and let them do their jobs: The old “command and control” paradigm makes sense in a world where little changes. In a chaotic world, not so much. Today’s employees want to bring their brains as well as their bodies to the workplace. If you want their full energy, passion and commitment, communicate the goals over and over, inspire employees about reaching them, and then turn people loose to achieve them.

Old rule:  Markets have predictable life spans and earnings curves

New rule:  Today’s markets can (and do) disappear overnight: Believing that your product or service will move smoothly along a predictable curve invites complacency, which, in turn, invites disaster. Never take anything for granted. Constantly check in with your customers and ask, “What has changed for you in the past six months to a year? How can we help you address your new circumstances?”

Old rule:  Strategic planning involves creating a 5-year plan.

New rule:  Look 12 to 24 months (at most) into the future: Five years ago, who would have predicted the collapse of the real estate and banking industries? Who would have predicted Obama would get elected president? When rapid change becomes the norm rather than the exception, our ability to predict the future with any accuracy goes out the window.   Short-term (12 to 24 months) is the new long-term.

Perhaps the most important new rule for today’s uncertain market realities is to constantly challenge what you think you know about your business and the world in general. Don’t allow yourself to get comfortable with the status quo. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck thinking that what has made you successful so far will continue to make you successful in the future. And if you haven’t re-evaluated your customers’ wants and needs within the past six months to a year, do so now!

Letting go of rules that have served you well in the past can be difficult, but holding on to them can be fatal. What rules are you holding onto that you should be letting go?

Read other articles and learn more about Holly G. Green.

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