2012 is almost upon us. And I have some good news and some bad news in regards to the year ahead.
The bad news? If you think you’re running fast now, get yourself some new track shoes, because the world isn’t slowing down. In fact, it will continue to go faster and get more complex as time goes by. The good news is that we can turn this challenge into an opportunity by embracing three simple leadership strategies.
1. Get clear about winning.
I don’t mean partially clear, or sort of clear. I mean crystal clear on what winning looks like for your organization.
Become obsessive about winning, defining it with as much specificity as possible. Talk about it all the time with employees and other key stakeholders. Put visual reminders around you. Prompt yourself via your smart phone. Make sure every meeting starts out talking about winning. Embed your definition of winning into all your ways of working.
The hard part is that we can no longer define winning once, and then let it go. We now have to constantly revise and update our picture of winning as the world changes around us. We need to continually think about winning, continually fine-tune our version of winning, and continually move towards it while bringing our employees along with us.
2. Shed your outdated ways of looking at the world.
What gets in the way of winning?
More often than not, it’s our old ideas about what we “know to be true” about our customers, markets, and industries. It’s our brain’s natural tendency to screen in information that agrees with our view of the world and screen out data that contradicts it. And it’s our thought bubbles (unspoken thoughts and assumptions) that tell us what made us successful in the past will continue to make us successful in the future.
I’m not saying all old ideas are bad. But when our world changes so quickly, we need to make a habit of checking our ideas, assumptions, and beliefs on a regular basis. And by regular, I mean every few months, at minimum. Once a year will not cut it!
Start by gathering information on what you know to be true. Not what you assume, speculate or hope, but what you know to be true through verifiable data. For example, aging populations, changing employee demographics, shifting customer communication channels, etc. Then compare this data with what you think you know to be true.
Put the two data sets together and begin to explore:
- Of what we know to be true, what is no longer true? Why?
- What has changed with our customers? Our industry?
- What new wants or needs do our customers have?
- What new services or products can we come up with to meet those needs?
- How could we redefine value in our market?
3. Slow down to go fast.
I’ve been talking about this concept for several years, and it becomes even more important in 2012.
Slowing down to go fast requires pausing from time to time, challenging your beliefs and assumptions, learning to think differently, and focusing on opportunities to add value to customers in ways that nobody else is doing. It also involves setting yourself up to win by creating space for your brain to ponder, wonder, explore, and connect.
For example, start meetings by asking, “When we have done this incredibly well, how will we have done it?” This will prompt your brain to look for solutions rather than what’s in the way. Winning is about subtle shifts in language and behavior each and every day. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you’re looking for solutions or talking about, and focusing on, roadblocks.
Spotting the winners
It’s easy to tell the companies that have a clear picture of winning versus those that don’t. For example, Southwest Airlines is really clear on their mission as the low-cost provider. No baggage fees. No change fees. Constantly fine-tuning faster ways to load the airplane. They get it, their employees get it, and so do their loyal customers.
Counter this with American Airlines, which recently filed for bankruptcy. I frequently fly American because I live in San Diego and have limited options. I have no clue how their leadership defines winning, but I am guessing it varies dramatically from their flight attendants and gate personnel. I often wonder if their idea of winning is to see how badly they can tick off their passengers every day.
When it comes to winning, make sure everyone in your ecosystem gets it. Not just employees, but suppliers, vendors, partners, alliances, and even (and especially) your customers. When you’re a winner, it’s obvious to those who meet you and work with you.
Get clear on winning in 2012. Start looking at the world differently. And slow down to go fast so that you can focus on solutions rather than what’s getting in the way. Winning is not only good for your business, it’s a lot more fun!