I remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting in Driver’s Ed, excited about getting my Driver's Permit. There was one lesson that seemed odd…make sure to check your side and rear view mirrors every 3 seconds (I believe they’ve since extended that to 5 seconds). At the time it seemed a bit excessive, but with cars whizzing by you on the Dan Ryan Expressway like it’s the Daytona 500, I can understand their concern.
In business, looking back too frequently is the beginning of the end for your company, for three reasons. First, when you relish the past and constantly talk about the golden years, you create a culture that believes the best years are behind you. It’s demotivating to your leaders. Second, the argument that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is a complete fallacy. Every situation is unique, the environment was different, and the variables are many. Don’t fall for the trap. Finally, if you become consumed with what the competition did or is doing, you lose touch with what is important to your business today and in the future.
Like everything, it’s a balancing act. Make sure you spend the vast majority of your time looking forward, understanding the fundamentals of the marketplace and how customers’ needs are changing. Yes, know where your competitors are and what they are doing, but don’t dwell on it or it will become a distraction to your leaders. Best-in-Class companies understand the market, create a vector of differentiation, and focus their energy on what matters most. Remember, everyone eventually gets to the right answer, but leaders get there faster.
We all know the past is a tricky thing. It provides us valuable lessons and at the same time it clouds our judgement. For me the past provides a measuring stick for continuous improvement. We get better or we get worse…we never stay the same. Whether your KPI is customer satisfaction, win percentage on new business, or number of defects per thousand, it’s critical that you measure what’s important in your business, and more importantly, that you focus on getting better every day. And when the KPIs go backwards (in a statistically significant way), do a root cause analysis to understand why it happened. Focus on removing that “why?” and you will drive positive change and get closer to your goals.
As every leader knows, business is a game of inches. Consultants will tell you, just do this and that and you will solve all your problems. Unfortunately, it’s never that easy. There is no silver bullet. It’s a combination of things you must do to get your company back on track. Caution: that combination of things typically spans the enterprise and is rarely owned by a single individual (but that’s for a future blog post).
Objects in Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are. This phrase was put on mirrors back in the 80’s to avoid consumer lawsuits; however, it provides us an excellent reminder to not panic. You put a lot of thought into developing a bullet proof strategic plan. Stick to it. Take the market’s temperature quarterly, but don’t act rash and jump to the next idea. Companies that are members of the “initiative of the month club” find themselves with mediocre results and “me too” offerings that won’t get you closer to your goal. Winning requires discipline and patience. If you are persistent, you will get it; if you are consistent, you will keep it.