In 9 January, 2012 national Post, page FP6 the above (in quotation marks) article by Brad Cherniak raised a number of intriguing possibilities for me. Brad raises 10 promises that taken together he believes will lead to the article title’s outcome.
The first promise: Talk more about my business. Talk to those that have some level of interest in your business, this helps you learn about out of “left field” surprises sooner rather than later.
For me, every social/business system makes a call about what it will pay particular attention to and what it won’t. While these choices continue to lead to success we are inclined to be satisfied with them and go on about our business. Disruptive changes – changes that require us to redraw the attention/less attention lines – whether slow incremental or more dramatic in nature are most easily handled if we have the time to consider, chose and act. This promise suggests a very practical way for gaining necessary lead time for dealing with disruptive events and forces.
The second promise: Be less trusting. This is the understanding that though others may have interests in your success and welfare they won’t mirror your interests.
Understanding where stakeholder interests converge and often more importantly diverge from yours is prudent. If we understand this, we can anticipate where we will incur continuing/additional support and where we won’t as we evolve our business. Furthermore, stakeholders interests change over time. Something we are doing that they have historically supported can evaporate seemingly overnight. So some level of appreciation on what are the conditions for support/opposition is useful as these are the predictors of change.
The third promise: Be more wily. This is the promise about being clear what and whose interests come first, second, third, etc. It is suggested that it is moral and fair to pay particular attention to our own interests in addition to other stakeholders.
This is an interesting thought as it suggests that we can rank order our (our own as well as others). This means that if we arrive at a circumstance where we have to make “tough” calls we can do so in some reasoned and principled manner. Part of this trading-off of lesser interests for more important ones while still holding the moral and fairness high ground is important. Thinking this through before hand enables us to expeditiously consider how best to communicate, mitigate from undue harm, provide bridging support, etc. Those who are on the short end of such decisions are more likely and easily to understand that the choices were based on principles and you truly care about how it affects them.
I really like this promise as it will help us the most during difficult times.
The fourth promise: Paint by the numbers. This is using the discipline of an actively relevant budget to make business decisions over time and to assist in making most reasoned and useful allocation of resources as experience indicates.
I sense that within this promise is also the ability to detect early on significant shifts in one’s operating environment (after all a well done budget explicitly describes the critical underlying assumptions) to act early and appropriately. This, I believe reflects some of my reflections in the first promise above: have useful leading indicators in place.
The fifth promise: Stay clear-headed about governance. This promise focuses on what one can most control (or even influence) to make the world a better place. It is about ensuring that the critical stakeholders legitimate intersts are protected and furthered.
It is a well understood principle of high performance to deal effectively with real and potential distractions. We seem to have this fuzzy thinking about feedback from any source and on any matter. A key component of potential distractions for the very successful is the desire of others to join their entourage. Knowing who to listen to, when and under what conditions is an important discipline (an effective rigid behavioural habit) if we desire to achieve high performance.
Are there times when there are benefits from opening up to additional forms of feedback – sure, but be wary of what you expect and will take away from this “opening up”.
From a business perspective, every additional stakeholder you accept in some fashion in your operations adds complexity to doing business. Understand that additions can impact complexity in a compounding and sometimes exponential manner. This is a simple mathematical relationship based on the fact that involved stakeholders have direct interests in what you do AND what you do for/with other stakeholders. It is this last insight that hints at the source our greatest stakeholder area of business uncertainties and risks.
Some stakeholders of course take it upon themselves to involve themselves regardless of your wishes (these can be governments, NGOs, advocacy groups, etc.). In many cases we can’t just ignore or exclude them. The important skill is how to “manage” their distance while avoiding gutting your legitimate way of conducting your business.
The sixth promise: Create a brighter line line between my personal affairs and the business. This is the understanding of how much of yourself do you put on the line for your business.
Too little and other investing stakeholders will be leery of investing in you. Too much and you put your whole survival on the line (putting at risk your capacity to survive a major disruption or loss). Dan suggests there is some controversy in this promise. For me, it is a matter of principle about what my life is about anyway? Is it only the business? If yes, then understand the nature of the uncertainties and risks you undertake for any other aspect of your life that you put some value on. If no (i.e., have limits of personal exposure), then understand the uncertainties and risks that you may incur on the costs of doing business and the implications on investing stakeholders willingness to invest.
The seventh promise: Communicate better. Brad suggests that this clearly means keeping the above mentioned promises in mind.
There is clearly quantity and quality aspects to this promise. Quantitatively, there is the old adage about communicating seven times seven different ways to have a hope that we are heard and understood. Qualitatively, it is about speaking to how and what your are doing impacts each and every unique stakeholders particular set of interests (including how you are dealing with adjacent interests). This is where we may discover whether we have taken on too many stakeholders.
In the fifth promise above, I noted that stakeholders can decide that they will intrude upon your activities regardless of your wishes. I wonder how helpful it would be if we remember that these parties speak (i.e., spokesperson/advocacy) for some kinds of concern/interest that may only tangentially relate to your business. Focusing some of your communications on these end interests and not only on the agents of these interests themselves.
Eighth promise: Listen to advice, but keep my centre. Keep to your business model and change it only when the preponderance (quantitative and/or qualitative) of evidence warrants it. And, it also means respecting the evidence and changing.
I have been struck by how often people don’t respect the evidence for change. I often ask groups of people how many have (or know someone who has) run out of gas while driving their vehicle. The second question is of course: “Was the fuel gauge working?”. This risk (it’s a risk because we understand the likelihood of occurrence) is highest when dealing with slower incremental shifts in our operating environment – we can rationalize that these “outlier” incidents are normal deviations from the norm (I know more stochastic mumbo jumbo) hence we can safely ignore them.
The ninth promise: Have some kind of interest outside the company. Have a meaningful distraction that takes our minds off the business. Enabling us to see and work through novel ideas, enabling us to rejuvinate ourselves.
It is a well established principle in sports and arts that we take rests from our activities. Psychologically, physiologically and biologically we understand the power of rest (for high performance and improvement) in these endeavours. Why do some of us have so much difficulty in accepting and abiding by this in other important life endeavours.
The tenth promise: Understand the web and social media better. This is about understanding and appreciating how these growing forms of mass scale social interaction mechanisms can impact our business.
I read today, that one person (and one person only) was able to spearhead the decision by Verizon and Bank of America to drop their just introduced service fees. This is amazing social media leverage! The leverage is amongst other things the ability to channel and foment dissatisfaction by your customers and other stakeholders in what you are doing. Similarly, there have been numerous anecdotes of businesses benefiting from “viral” net communications.
Thank you Brad and a happy new year to you too.