Back in the 1970s, New York City Mayor Ed Koch was well-known for stopping fellow New Yorkers and randomly asking them “how am I doing?”.
Beyond the obvious attempt at empathizing with his electorate, Koch’s question was actually a wise one; there is much to be gained—and learned—for anyone in a leadership role by pausing every now and then and asking oneself–and others–“how am I doing?”
The theory has ancient roots: even Socrates once opined that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Still, you might think that in the narcissistic age of the ‘selfie’ and social media, the self-examining question of “how am I doing” could be seen as superfluous, especially in the business world. However, given the competitive nature—and speed—of business these days, far too few business leaders take the time to seriously reflect on just how ‘on target’ their efforts are, and whether or not their operations are in sync with the best interest of their business.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer up five of the key operational questions every successful business leader/owner should ask his or herself–on a regular, recurring basis–to help ensure his company’s long-term prosperity:
5) Do We Have The Right People In Senior Management Positions?
There’s an old adage that says “a fish rots from the head down”. The business implication of that statement being, that if there are problems within the top management of a company, it’s likely that those problems will trickle down to the business’ daily operations.
Of course, the opposite is also true: a well-run company, with senior management who have a clear vision of where the company is heading–and the skills to take it there–is far more likely to succeed and overcome competitors.
Simply stated, it’s imperative that an organization put in place not only skilled senior management—but the right skilled senior management—to ensure that the executive decisions made daily are in sync with how best to both increase sales, while maintaining a positive workplace environment.
4) Is Our Company Sufficiently Open To New Ideas & Taking Appropriate Risks?
As I noted in an earlier column, one of the biggest challenges that face very successful companies is a sense of complacency, and the accompanying assumption that since the company is doing well now, it can expect to continue to enjoy success going forward.
The fact is that in today’s business world things change faster than ever before, and even companies—such as our own Sackett National Holdings–that are today enjoying solid growth, cannot simply assume they will retain that momentum. Innovation and complacency are foes, and it’s rare that a company that loses its competitive edge is also a hub of innovation.
Another victim of corporate complacency is a company’s tolerance for risk. There’s a reason that one of the most commonly used phrases in the entrepreneurial business world is “no risk, no reward”—it just happens to be true. While due diligence is always important, even successful companies have to be willing to accept the degree of risk that’s inherent with innovation, and introducing new products and services. Thus, it’s important for a company to continually ask itself if it is willing to accept the risk that comes with innovation.
3) What defines and delineates our company from our competitors?
In 2012, there was an estimated 29 million small businesses operating in the United States. For any business-owner, that can be an intimidating number, given the implications for competition; certainly, that competition is good news for consumers, but it also means that it’s absolutely imperative that a company be able to offer customers a product or service that can delineate it from its competitors.
In the Internet age, consumers have more choices—and sources of information regarding those choices—than ever before. To be heard above the ‘din’, to stand out from the vast number of competitors, a business needs to identify what it can offer customers that its competition either can’t, or does not: competitive pricing, a track record of reliability, innovative products, and superior customer service are each examples of how a business can delineate itself from others competing for the same customer’s dollar.
But, of course, in order to persuade customers your business stands out from its competition, a company must also ask itself…
2) Are We Doing Enough To Tell The World Our Company’s ‘Story’?
Business people—and particularly entrepreneurs—are hardly renowned as shy or introverted.
And rightly so. For in addition to possessing ability and ‘business smarts’, it takes a great deal of self-confidence to believe that one can overcome the odds to create–and operate–a successful business.
However, in line with my previous point, it’s never been more imperative than in the Internet age that a business makes the effort required to tell the world its ‘story’—to proudly, and accurately, inform current and potential customers about why they should consider the company’s products or services.
The fact is that, as any first year science student knows, “Nature hates a vacuum”, and if a company fails to tell its corporate story, then that ‘void’ will be filled either by misinformation or by another, more proactive competitor’s story.
There’s a reason that even well established, iconic brands such as Coca Cola, Ford Motors or Bank of America spend considerable time and resources in the areas of marketing and public/media relations. It’s because they realize that, despite their iconic brands, they have both a corporate—and fiduciary—responsibility to help shape the ‘narrative’ about what is being said regarding their company; they also recognize that equally ‘iconic’ rivals such as Pepsi Cola, General Motors and Wells Fargo would be happy to fill the information vacuum, should they fail to tell their company’s respective corporate stories.
Even if the ROI (return on investment) isn’t always immediately apparent, it’s imperative that any company—of any size—make whatever reasonable efforts it can to proudly tell the world about itself; failure to do so in a fiercely competitive market endangers the company’s future prospects, no matter the quality of its products or services.
And speaking of future prospects, there’s the critically important question…
1) Where Do We Envision Our Company To Be In Five Years?
We’ve all heard the expression ‘you can’t get to where you want to go, until you know where you want to be’, and nowhere is this truer than in the corporate journey. Simply having a goal of ‘more success’ isn’t a sufficient vision for a company’s future.
In order for a business to have a clearly delineated path to success, it must also have a clearly delineated goal(s). In shaping a company’s path forward, there are a multitude of important questions to address, including:
- How fast do you wish to grow your business?
- Will that growth be organic or via acquisitions, or both?
- Will the focus be specific to a targeted market or geographic region?
- If it’s a privately held entity, do you plan to someday consider taking the company public? If so, what needs to be done in preparation for this move?
And of course, a company’s desired goals may need to be revised over time; circumstances change, and so it may be necessary to revisit a company’s longer-term plans to ensure that they remain in sync with significant external changes that occur.
It’s also critically important to remember that all the ‘how am I doing’ questions outlined here are recurring—businesses, like the people who run them, change over time, and constant adaptation to those changes requires ongoing, honest self-appraisal.
The bottom line is that, in an era where change is accurately said to be the only constant, companies willing to continuously ask themselves “how am I doing” aren’t being narcissistic—they’re being well-run.