Getting Your Bearings in 2007

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I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas this year. The holidays aren't over yet, but since not everyone is on vacation right now, I should at least try and post a few more times before we all turn the page on 2006.

As always, I start my day with a couple of quick glances at my favorite business/marketing blogs, and I found this gem today on Mike Wagner's Own Your Brand blog. Since a whole new year is right around the corner and many of you still have four or five months before the big spring releases and trade shows, I found this post extremely a-propos. Check it out:

“In a few minutes you’ll be finishing lunch and heading back to work for the balance of the day. 2007 is just around the corner - 2006 is all but a memory. What will you face when you walk through the doors?

"Will your top salesperson be asking, for the tenth time this week, for you to consider lowering prices for 2007?

"Will you commit to another newspaper ad or radio spot announcing discounts, sales, or rebates?

"Will your CFO ask you to take a look at the P&L for the last quarter to be sure you’re fully aware margins have shrunk again?

"Will you scour your company’s efficiency report hoping your operations manager’s found another way to cost save?

"Will your Director of HR stop by long enough to tell you that one of your brightest, best, and most creative employees is leaving? And will you wonder out loud, “Why can’t we keep good people?”

"Will yet another customer compliant be routed to you because you’ve got front-line people who just don’t care?"


If you've answered yes to any of these questions, chances are that you should also be answering yes to most - if not all - of these questions.

(And thus begins the downward spiral.) Seriously. If this sounds like your company, you need to stop and figure out how to get yourself out of the hole you've dug for yourself right now.

Not a year from now. Not when things settle down a bit and you have more time (that will NEVER happen). Not when your big project is over.

Right now.

Think of it this way: If you ever watch the Discovery Channel, - especially on Friday evenings - you're probably familiar with the survival shows that either recreate stories of survival in the wild, or let you follow intrepid hosts all over the globe so they can put themselves in the position of a lost tourist or hiker just to show you how to survive your next accidental stranding. Invariably, in each of these shows, a moment will come when the people who have gotten stranded realize that they are lost and that they need to get their bearings before moving on. Not doing so, continuing to move in a direction that could be the wrong one, could prove fatal.

As an executive, think of the warning signs Mike mentioned above as indicators that your company has gotten a bit lost. That you've zigged when you should have zagged. That if you don't adjust your course quickly, you will continue down the wrong path.

Just as stopping to get your bearings at regular intervals is something that is essential to your survival in the wild, it is also essential to your survival in the business world.

And by stopping to get your bearings, I don't mean just making sure that sales quotas are where they should be. There are other questions to ask, and many of them should be asked of your customers - or your competitors' customers. What do you like about us? What don't you like about us? What do you like better about us than other companies that kind of do the same thing? (It's a trick question.) What do you like better about us this year than, say, three years ago? What do you like less about us this year than three years ago? What's the one thing you would like to see us do this year? (Hopefully, it won't be "lower your prices.")

You don't have to actually ask. Surveys aren't always all that great. But you have to know the answers to these questions. You need to have your finger on the pulse.

You also need to know where your company wants to be and needs to be this time next year. And three years from now. And eight years from now.

There are plenty of other questions you need to be asking in order to get your bearings - like, what do we need to do to move the conversation away from price? Not next year, but right now.

Every company is different, and so getting your bearings comes with a whole specific set of questions unique to your own company... But Mike has a set of questions that work for pretty much every company out there - including yours. They are:

What is our creative difference? This is where you take a long hard look at your organization or business. Will you see sameness, better sameness, or something that makes you authentically different? If you don’t see lots of ideas, creativity, and real difference, you’ve got big-time work to do!

What do we promise our customers? Most people don’t realize they haven’t a clue what their non-negotiable promises are to the marketplace. This is where marketing and sales go off and do “their thing” - which often means defaulting to low prices. Gee, that’s original!
What makes us relevant - right now? “NOW” is the operative word – don’t live in the past by caring about what made you relevant years ago. Prepare to be humbled. Staying with this question often shows leaders just how much they’ve lost touch with the marketplace.

Can we hear and tell the truth within our organization? Jim Collins calls this part of the conversation “the brutal facts”. His research demonstrated no one attains greatness without embracing them. Have you hugged your brutal facts today?

Do we have zombies working for us? You already sense your people don’t care - this is where you find out why. Don’t end the meeting until you know why they should care. Make another pot of coffee and stay with this one!
And this is why I enjoy Mike's blog so much.

Start the new year right. Turn off the auto-pilot. Get your bearings. Forge on ahead armed with the knowledge that you know where you're going, and that you know how to get there.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. :)

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