Business isn’t all about profit. Here’s how you can make your business more meaningful, on both an economic and a human scale.
Your Business Strategy Is Missing a Key Ingredient: Yo’ Mamma
Does the idea of bringing your mother into your business strategy make you giggle, groan or cringe? Don’t be so quick to count Mom out. She—and others like her—just might be the secret ingredient you need to take your organization’s strategy to the next level. Here are five reasons Momma (or another outsider) really might know best.
Fresh eyes help you assess your external and internal factors
You probably think you know how to identify the people who can best help your business. They have advanced degrees. They’ve done TED talks. They’re strategy consultants. In short, they’re recognized experts.
Yes, those people can help, but they’re not the only ones. You can get great ideas from a Harvard professor, but you can also get great ideas in the bathtub. In fact, your bathtub has some big advantages over a Harvard professor. It’s free; it’s easily accessible. You might get advice from a Harvard professor once in a lifetime, but you can get in the tub whenever you want.
It’s the same with your mom. You can call her up tomorrow. She can provide fresh eyes and a new perspective on your business and its environment. Just as important, she can challenge your preconceptions about who is “worthy” to consult with your business.
If the story is too complex, that’s because you don't understand it
If you think your business problem is too complex to explain to your mom—or your mail carrier, or your grocery clerk—it’s not because they aren’t smart enough to understand it. It’s because you don’t understand the problem well enough to explain it simply!
If you don’t understand the story you’re telling, you can’t ask the right questions to outsiders (let alone folks inside your organization). If you can’t ask the right questions, you can’t get the full value from talking to Mom (or anyone else).
To get the information you need from others, slow down and think about it strategically. What are your priorities? What part of your business do you need to focus on? What perspectives on the way the world works right now could others help add to your strategic dialogue? Often, this is as simple as talking about customers—after all, they’re the ones who buy things. Start there. For B2C businesses, your mom could possibly be a potential customer—another reason to talk to her.
Everyone is an unturned stone of opportunity for your business; anticipate!
To improve your business strategy, start looking for insights everywhere you go. Everyone and everything can be an opportunity to stimulate ideas.
Recently I met with a former SVP of Sears who is working with some quantum physicists on a startup. We got into a conversation about a tire company where he had gone to get his tires fixed. Instead of flicking around on his iPhone, he decided to use that visit as a way to challenge his assumptions about customer service. What differentiates high-performing businesses? How do they guarantee great service across different divisions? What priorities do they have in place to fund that level of service? We got so much value out of that discussion—not because he was a genius, but because a customer at a tire store had his eyes open and noticed how the business was run. You don’t need to be an executive of a Fortune 500 business to do this. You just need to expect much from what looks like little, the way he did.
All around you are accessible businesses, organizations, or people within a business or an organization. There’s opportunity to get new insights all around us. Your life is your bathtub! Be anticipatory and ask yourself, “Why am I seeing this? What can I get from this?” If you have your eyes open, you’ll see 50 opportunities today that might spark a life-changing idea in your business.
This approach should trickle down to the entire company. When senior executives demonstrate that outside stimulus benefits them, it conveys to the whole organization that learning is important and diversity is important. Once employees at all levels are encouraged to bring what they learn from others into the business, it’s almost impossible to stop that business from learning and growing rapidly.
Messy conversations help you stretch your muscles
Conversations with Mom and others like her will be messy and confusing at times. You’ll get frustrated. Mom will get frustrated. She may not understand your industry’s jargon. She may not know what ROI or UX means. She may go off on tangents.
But messy conversations teach you how to corral the discussion back to a conversation that’s valuable for your business. That’s a muscle you need to stretch in order to take inputs and ideas from all over the place and use them to help your strategy.
If you don’t stretch that muscle, the only resources you’ll have to help your business are nuggets of advice, people telling you what to do, or you telling yourself what to do. All of those can be echo chambers, all of them can be lonely, and all of it can make you feel out of control.
Using relationships and human interaction to improve your business also stretches your muscle for better understanding and valuing time. We’re so focused on getting ROI from our time. But being open to messy conversations, slower interactions, or longer interactions can help a modern executive see how “wasting” two hours in a tire store may not be a waste at all.
Speaking with non-execs helps you refine your presentation logic
When you bring someone from the outside into your internal dialogue, you need to cut to the chase. She probably doesn’t want buzzwords or abbreviations. Talking to Mom helps you refine your presentation logic, almost like an elevator pitch. You’ve got to be able to say it simply, you’ve got to be able to say it powerfully, and you’ve got to tee up the right questions.
Have five, 10, or 20 of these conversations in a week and see how it improves the way you present your ideas. The value isn’t only in what the people you talk to say. It’s about how you change your presentation based on who you’re talking to, what they don’t say, and how they respond to you.
This refining process prepares you for presenting in-house so you can better sell your ideas internally. During these conversations, you’ll also gain interpersonal insights that will help you in the human side of implementing strategic initiatives.
Business strategy that’s developed solely by executives and experts can become an echo chamber. Without outside perspectives and input, your strategy will be missing a key ingredient for success. Do you really want to improve your strategy? Call your mother.
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Better Business on Purpose Podcast
Short 15-20 min segments tailor made for senior leaders of small to medium sized businesses. Available on all major listening platforms.