When business owners and executives attending my latest business transformation workshop instantly shouted their response to a question I posed, it reassured me that I had hit a nerve.
My session attendees swiftly answered "Not making decisions!" when asked "What is the #1 biggest mistake decision makers make when trying to transform?" Think about it. It rings true, doesn't it? Barry Schwartz warned in the classic The Paradox of Choice to, "beware of choice overload: it can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them."
So, how can we quiet the noise and constant feedback that throws us off course and undermines our confidence to make good decisions? The answer to moving forward lies in maintaining a good balance.
In my experience working with organizations in limbo, I've encountered five recurring factors that affect the balance within an organization and slow or totally halt its progress.
#1 - Assumptions vs. Fresh Facts. Isaac Asimov once said, "Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in." As a leader, you are no doubt used to gathering data, swiftly digesting it and then quickly making day-to-day decisions based on preconceived notions and assumptions.
However, if you truly aim to effect organizational change and are in the right mindset to begin this process, your next step may feel counterintuitive. You must be willing to "scrub the windows" and throw away all knee-jerk, preconceived notions that affect your decisions. Stop yourself from jumping to quick conclusions, simply because it is easy.
Rather, you must push yourself to collect fresh data, possibly even from some new sources, for enhanced perspective. By analyzing those inputs from a more unbiased perspective, you will find creative new ways to make impactful changes. The key is to find the balance between solid assumptions and new facts.
In the real world: At annual sales meetings, most companies review sales figures in the same way they have for the last several years. They fall into a repetitive routine, using old information and outdated assumptions. A transformational company must balance past assumptions with new inputs, such as new technologies, new target demographics, new product offerings, new trends and other competitive factors to shake things up. Leadership author, communicator, and coach, Michael McKinney summed it up well when he said "What we know often blocks us from what we need to see."
#2 - Constructive Criticism vs. Self-Doubt. This applies not only to your co-workers, processes and products, but to you, too! We need to find balance in our criticism. Paralysis from self-doubt and perfectionism leads to total lack of progress. However, constructive criticism pushes us towards positive change and achievement. Again, this can be a difficult balance to find, especially if you've been in business for a long time, doing things the way they've always been done. You may want to seek out an external resource to help evaluate and constructively critique your people, your processes and your business model.
In the real world: A major goal for my team and I is to produce videos answering business transformation questions for executives. "Vlogging" is a new endeavor for us and the initial videos have been far from perfect. The fact is that we could have scrutinized and re-shot it many times and still not achieve "perfection." However, we value the message as more important than the actual delivery. We trust that over time, with practice, our process and end-result would organically improve. By finding the balance between criticism and acceptance, we are able to move forward. One of Sheryl Sandberg's favorite mottos (which is prominently displayed on the walls at Facebook) is, "Done is better than perfect... Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst."
#3 - Listening vs. Tuning Out Distractions. Do you tune out "distractions", like co-workers, client and partners, in your rush to get things done? How about your own gut instinct? Don't! These "distractions" could contribute to your next big breakthrough. Don't forget to listen to the market, either. Like it or not, social media also plays a very important role in market trends. Be receptive to the conversation about your company and its products and services. Listen when people are telling you what they want. Writer and columnist Harvey Mackay wrote, "You learn when you listen. You earn when you listen--not just money, but respect."
In the real world: My company has been implementing a significant change to our own business model based on feedback from the market. In past years, our main focus was to provide software and services directly to the federal government. However, by heeding feedback obtained via networking, social media and other sources, we found that things are changing and we should too. It's no longer solely about delivering directly to the government end user, but also helping IT manufacturers and vendors enter the government market. This input led us to solidify our Government Reach Program.
#4 - Exceeding Expectations vs. Over-Delivery. We are all trained that customer service is of the utmost importance. However, business owners and corporate executives struggle to find the balance of meeting customer's expectations while still remaining within the scope of the project. By "over-delivering" and providing way more than promised, the relationship may receive a short-term boost, but possibly at the detriment of the long-term picture.
In the real world: A small shipping store in a tiny community was noticing a steady decline in customer traffic and assumed that it was due to poor customer service. In order to remedy this, they went overboard by providing excessive attention, discounted rates for existing services and making it a policy to never say no to any reasonable request. Although the customers were very pleased with the changes, business owners not only failed to see an increase in sales, but, in fact, only realized a rise in costs. In this case, the attempt to over-deliver outside the scope of the core business actually had a negative impact. By making assumptions and acting too quickly, the business did not first discover the root cause of the traffic decline. The reality had nothing to do with customer service, and everything to do with technological advances (like mobile apps) making some of their preexisting services obsolete. As Peter Drucker has pointed out, "efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing." Our mission is to find the "right thing."
#5 - Customer Focus vs. Internal Focus. Oliver Cromwell once intoned, "he who stops being better stops being good." We're often so busy trying to help our customers improve their products and services that we forget to focus internally on our own business transformation. Areas that may suffer could be morale, overall organization, or failing to look for growth opportunities. The challenge is to continue to look out for your customers while simultaneously keeping your own house in order and growing. Internal growth can and should be encouraged for yourself, your support team, your partners, and your products. It all depends on what works best for your own business model.
In the real world: I struggle with this as a small business owner when trying to play multiple roles for my key clients. As leaders and executives, we must always look to find that delicate balance between internal and external focus. H. Jackson Brown, Jr., author of Life's Little Instruction Book, once said that, "Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There's plenty of movement, but you never know if it's going to be forward, backwards, or sideways." By scheduling time into every week where I brainstorm new opportunities with my team, we emerge energized, ready to serve our customers better.
The Challenge of Leadership
By the end of my workshop, I was overwhelmed by the number of attendees who had experienced "aha" moments. They now understood more clearly how business transformation is significantly related to maintaining balance. Like a difficult yoga pose or that perfect backhand, it just takes practice and action to sustain the control necessary to balance on the tight-rope of the business world.
Business philosopher Jim Rohn succinctly believed that, "the challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly." In essence, you must find the right balance.
Valeh Nazemoff is international bestselling author of The Four Intelligences of the Business Mind, as well as a coach, business consultant, and co-owner of Acolyst. She is founder of the Communication Transformation Business Workshop.