This article has been published in the Oct 2012 issue of TISA.
Einstein said – Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.
Developing a Habit
Excellence in anything is never God sent or inherited. It is the outcome of will, humility, sheer hard-work and perseverance. But working hard aimlessly and expecting results is also inappropriate. What we need to do is evolve everyday of our lives. We have to add something extra in our repertoire and push our boundaries. We have to constantly try to do better. This holds true for every human being working in any capacity. Patanjali Yoga Sutra stresses on two specific vikshepas (disruption) – inability to progress and instability in maintaining progress.
How do surgeons become talented? How do actors become brilliant? How do musicians become versatile and magnificent? They practice every single day. Initially, they do the routine stuff and focus on correctness. Soon they start doing it correctly but in shorter duration. Then they focus on developing their own technique, doing it in shorter duration with minimized steps. At the next level, they take up bigger challenges and try to master them. In all this, they never lose focus of the basics, but they never do the same thing in the same way forever.
This is the crux of business growth and sustainability too. Businesses of all sizes either survive or die because of these reasons. What is in the external locus of our control; we cannot do much about it. But what is within our means, we must endeavor to do and do it every single day without fail. That is how we form a habit; to excel in everything that we do however small or big.
What you should do habitually?
There are six areas business owners should try to scrutinize every day to create business excellence.
1. Employees – Who are your employees? What are their aspirations? Do you know each one of them by first name? What work do they actually do? How long have they been working for you? What do you know about their families? What are their needs? How can you help them to help themselves? How strong are the communication channels in your organization?
We all have a need for belongingness. It matters more than money. People do not accept this fact outright but they often tend to work in the same place if they find acceptance, space to grow and a feeling of family in the organization.
The employees are the ones each of whom generate small results which have huge compounding effect on the overall business performance. A business never grows because of one single employee but due to the combined efforts of all of them however big or small their task and responsibilities may be.
Apple is not great because of Steve Jobs. He was the face that was seen in the media. They owe their success even to each of the workers in the Chinese factories where their products are being made.
Rome was not built in a day; it was also not built by one person.
2. Customer – Your customer is a company but you deal with a “person” who is giving you business on behalf of the customer. You need to know your customer – the company; you need to know the decision maker and influences – the key employees of your customers. At a superficial level, you must know who is making the purchase decision but as you go deeper, you must know who is the end user of the product (the production department), and anyone else who influences in the product choice and decision making.
What does the customer think of your product or service? What are their informal suggestions for improvement? What else are they observing with your competitors which you can try to serve? What are the company’s prospects? What are they planning to do to reach the next level of growth? Who are their key customers? What are they looking for in your customer’s product part of which is delivered by you?
It might sound unrealistic but people love to talk. Prodded in the right way you might gather lot of business intelligence which will help you in improving your own strategies. Including your customers in your business decision making is not intrusion but empowerment.
The closer your ears are to the ground, the better will be your choices and decisions.
3. Financial Position – How stringent and compliant are your accounting procedures and financial reports? How transparent are they? Do you get your actual business position on a day to day basis? What are your costs? How can you bring it down? How competitive is your pricing strategy? How can you provide more value at the same price? Where can you cut down on waste? In today’s world of technology, it is absolutely possible to see your company performance each day.
Business is all about dynamics. And the environment evolves each moment. While you are sleeping some other market is in action. There are changes occurring which may impact your business. You can no longer depend on the balance sheet at the end of the financial year to plan for the future.
You have to be agile. You have to be proactive. You must know where your business stands at the end of the day. And it is not a difficult or cumbersome task to check your financial position. The faster you see the red flags, the faster you handle them and move forward. That is the difference between sickness and health. Your hand should always feel the pulse.
4. Market Trend – You might have been a pioneer in your business idea. You may have the best systems and product features but somewhere in the world someone is working at this moment to step up the competition, to render your offering obsolete. Are you aware of it? What are the international trends in your business? (Do not give the excuses like – how can we implement it? It is too costly or cumbersome? We do not have a need for such features in our country) Ponder on how you can implement them in your offering. How you can explain the benefits (and the added cost) to your customers? They have to see value in what you are offering. Try and understand why a particular feature has been included in the product elsewhere in the world.
What related innovations and changes are happening in the market currently unrelated to your product? Mobile phones with cameras ate into the digital camera market. Multi-featured printers with scanner and copier are preferred in home and small business. Photo printing became less desired with increase in digital photo frames and small storage devices. Changes are happening everywhere and some unrelated change might just wipe off your business. Keep your eyes and mind open. Read, discuss and ponder.
5. Networking – You must have a veritable network of friends, well-wishers, experts and people in general when you are in any business. You need to know the policeman, the traffic person, the courier guy, the postman, the clerk in the government office. These are few examples. The list is unending. You need to know them well enough to approach them (only in case of dire need) but meanwhile you need to cultivate relationships and keep watering them.
Ellen Kullman, CEO of Dupont was quoted in a McKinsey interview (Sep 2012) titled “Leading in the 21st century” – “If you don’t water it, it is going to die”. Watering for Ellen is investing today for growth tomorrow.
There is a concept of six-degrees of separation of Frigyes Karinthy. Loosely explained it means that for every person you know well, he/ she will know someone within six steps directly or indirectly who might be of value to you.
6. Introspect – In life and in business, one thing we should never forget is to think where we are and where we want to be. Are we in line with our goals or drifting away? If we are drifting what is the cause? Address it NOW! If we are in line with our goals then are we going at the required pace or slower? Why? What can we do to improve it?
Which area of the self or business needs improvement? Why? What needs to be done? How will it help in the long run?
Introspection helps in stronger strategies and strengthens the vision. It helps us analyze our current performance and stand. It points towards the path for improvement. It is the lighthouse and compass in our minds which gives direction.
Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. ~ Mark Twain
As a business owner, accept the fact that you are not meant to do mundane things. You have employees and technology to do the routine, repetitive functions and with greater efficiency. Yes, you have done the basics at the inception of your business but do you intend to remain stunted or you wish to grow bigger?
Don’t you brush, bathe and wear clothes each day? It is not a daunting task to do the six things each day. Doing it piece by piece you will be able to form a pattern and system which will help you accomplish all this everyday and in a reasonable time.
If you are not monitoring and keeping yourself abreast with all these then what are you doing everyday that is of value to yourself or the business? What are you doing that can be done only by you and no one else? The businesses which have made it big are the ones where the top management started focusing on macro issues instead of micromanaging things like reviewing purchase orders, making invoices, procuring raw material, and taking inventory.
End of the day you must honestly feel you have made some progress, you have learnt something new that will help you advance yourself and your business, you have done what you had to do and you know what you should be doing the next day and in future.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ~ Aristotle
Author of “Going Soft is the New Normal” available on Amazon - (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008IUL81O)