SME

Mindfulness and Business: Coulda Woulda Shoulda

It's a week, now, since the beginning of this year - and, frankly, even a Martian who landed in the Western Hemisphere (and parts of the rest of the world, too) would know it must be the New Year simply based on the number of advertisements for weight-loss and exercise that now riddle every form of media we have.

It's time to lose weight.
It's time to exercise.
It's time to lose weight and exercise.

And, oh, by the way, they say, you've probably already lost sight of those New Year's Resolutions you made...to lose weight and exercise...and we have the answer!

No, they don't. But you do.

And, just so you know, it's not about the resolutions. It's about being mindful about what you're doing as you're doing it.

I'm going to be talking a lot about mindfulness in this blog with the help of my friend and yours, Dr. Leon Lessinger. The Leadership Quantified Experts will be writing about it from their perspectives, too. Because it's time that we all bring a new level of presence and consciousness to the decisions we're making and the actions we're taking. (BTW, the weight loss and exercise industries are hoping you do exactly the opposite. That's the only way their business model succeeds.)

Okay. So. Mindfulness. Sounds good - or not. Sounds woo-woo - or not. What it is - always - is practical. So, let's start with how to identify the indicators that you've not been mindful in the past. (Because that's going to change now.)

Think back over the past 6-18 months and identify all the "Coulda Woulda Shoulda" experiences you had. These are the ones where, after the fact (no matter how short or long a time period) you say to yourself:
  • We could have done that after all, or
  • We should have done this instead, or
  • We would have done that, but....
Any or all of those - individually or in any combination - are your indicators that you were not being fully present when making the decision you made...particularly when, even as you're making the decision, you know you coulda/shoulda/woulda gone the other way. But you didn't.

Over my years working with executives around the world and in different languages, the two most common versions sounded like this (usually in a 2 am phone call):
"Leslie, you're not going to like what I did, but..."
or
"Leslie, you were absolutely right. I should have..."
In both cases, the origin was the same - they knew they were not making the optimal decision even as they were making it. The only difference between the two was when we talked about it (i.e., immediately or long after the associated actions were taken).

Which brings us to an important point: Regrets are not the same as mindfulness.

Regrets occur after the fact. Mindfulness occurs in real-time. In the present. As you're making the decisions you need to make.

That's why doing a Coulda/Woulda/Shoulda Retrospective Analysis is so important. What you're trying to figure out are the situations that lead you to make decisions that you later regret.

That way, you've got the best insider information possible. You know your habits and trends. You also know the habits, trends...and fears...of your team that lead to the after-the-fact regrets expressed.

So, starting now - because you're being mindful and present - look at the decisions you're making...both small and large...and, before finalizing them and either taking or assigning action, identify whether there are any Coulda/Shoulda/Wouldas that you know will arise later. (You may not want to admit it - but you know them. Now.)

Then, take the actions necessary. You'll find that your own and your business's productivity and success accelerate faster than you could ever have imagined.

The Secrets of Success: Cheerful Ruthlessness

There's something particularly enjoyable about the shopping experience - in person and online - that some retailers simply know how to create.

They make you happy to do business with them. In fact, they make you so happy to do business with them that you begin to forget to do business with anyone else.

It's not their products or services or branding - or not necessarily. And it's not even their customer service - although that plays a part.

It's their ubiquity. Just as "xeroxing" became a verb for the action that is, in fact, photocopying, these organizations make themselves so common to your retail transactions in their spaces that they become a default.

Which is exactly their goal.

How do they do it? It's what I call "Cheerful Ruthlessness."

For those organizations that have nailed the strategy, they feel and operate and keep working to be unbeatable. They work with the assumption that there is simply no aspect of the industry in which they define themselves as leaders that they're not going to own.

And it's that bit "the industry in which they define themselves" that's most important to watch. Because that's how they become ubiquitous. They see their space as the whole space - not just an aspect of it. And particularly not as an aspect that would be defined by those outside.

That's how they fool everyone as they build and expand and then expand some more. While the competitors are looking at the company either for what they think it is or what it was in the past, these Cheerfully Ruthless companies define themselves in their own terms - and then bring the consumer right along with them.

(By the way, this is as applicable for the Big Boys as it is for the Little Guys, so everyone pay attention.)

The easiest way to explain how Cheerful Ruthlessness works is to take two primary examples: Amazon and Starbucks.

When Amazon first started, it was an online bookstore. Or so everyone thought. In fact, as everyone who wasn't paying attention found out later, it was all aspects of online retail. Here's how it goes:
  • You have a small business providing specialty items you want to sell? You can do that on Amazon.
  • You're a Big Boy but haven't been able to crack online retail? Amazon will partner with you.
  • You're a customer and you purchased something - whether for yourself or as a gift? You're going to get guidance and pings on a regular basis to 'help' you find more of the same...or different, as the system learns your preferences.
And everything comes packaged in a box with a smile on it.

After a while, no matter which aspect of the retail experience you touch, you're going to turn to Amazon. And that's exactly what Jeff Bezos, its Founder and CEO (among other titles) wanted to achieve.

It was never about being an online bookstore. That was the Test Drive. It gave the organization the chance to kick the tires of putting the internet and retailing together for the first time. But, even by Bezos' own reckoning, it was a matter of selecting what the company would start with first. That was never where it was intended to end.

Which takes us to Starbucks. In the world of ubiquity, there are those who would argue that no organization can beat Starbucks for being everywhere. But there's more to it than that.

Because Starbucks isn't just Starbucks any longer.

After all the years of expansion and brand-building followed by the years of too much expansion, negative reputation and the effort required to rebuild what was lost, Starbucks figured out two things:
  1. People drink things besides coffee that the company can make and sell, and
  2. There are people who don't like the Starbucks brand...but they still like coffee.
As a result, Howard Schultz, its Chairman and CEO (twice), has taken the company into:
  • Juice-like drinks (that have a base of green coffee beans)
  • Energy drinks (that are canned, bottled and can easily be found in your local shop, gas station or supermarket) and, most importantly, 
  • "No-name" Starbucks coffee houses.
Yes, it's very possible that you are going to a Starbucks in your neighborhood which has a neighborhood-like name ("34th Street Coffee," for example) but is, in fact, a Starbucks. Because for everyone who doesn't want to support the Big Beast coffee vendor, they can say, "Oh, I don't go to Starbucks" - but the company is still gathering their cash.

All with happy barristas serving you whatever you want.

It's Cheerful Ruthlessness. They're finding every way to get consumers through their doors or on their site or seeing their products - all the while making them feel as if they still have a choice.

And they do - which is the most important point, because, when you work it right, that's where you and your company come in.

For those who are competing against a Cheerfully Ruthless competitor, you watch, learn and change how you define your win...because, realistically, you're not going to put these guys out of business (which is their intent for you).

So, it's on you to figure out how to differentiate yourself enough that they can keep doing what they do (because they will) - while you out-perform them at every turn in your own particular part of their bigger than big space.

But, before you start, there's one thing you need to know: They're afraid of you.

Yes, you. Scared to the bones. Because what they know (and hope you don't...or hope you forget as you stress about them) is that you can do things - both online and off - that they can't. Specifically:
  • You're faster and nimbler. 
  • You're more responsive and personable. 
  • You create personal relationships while theirs are all at least one, two or three degrees of separation removed - frequently more.
b2b or b2c, those are your greatest selling points and point of differentiation. Add in your ability to be innovative and you can take and keep your piece of whatever your market is.

Business is ruthless. It's the nature of the game. Even if you're in the charity sector, you're competing against every other charity - in and out of your field - for the money people are willing to spend. And that makes you ruthless as you do your good deeds.

So, as you add Cheerful Ruthlessness to your and your organization's skill set and strategy, first stop thinking of it as a bad thing. Instead, think of it as being completely committed to:
  • Taking and keeping your particular part of your market, in part by
  • Determining what your customers need,  while moreover
  • Meeting and exceeding those expectations regularly, by
  • Building an organization that is as committed as you to those goals. 
Never feel bad about being strong and consistent and tough about what you want. As long as you're clear about what you do and where you're going, not only will you take your employees along with you (who will help you get there and beyond faster, cheaper and smarter than you ever hoped) but your customers will gleefully go along for the ride.

Because, in your ruthless commitment to their satisfaction, you've made your customers cheerful - which will bring a smile to your and all your other stakeholders' faces, too.

Lessons from Facebook: It's All in the Measures

Today is the day that the first group of Facebook "lock-up" shares, post-IPO, go on the market. The analysts (in all their always fascinating wisdom - and, yes, I'm being sarcastic) told us it would be a bloodbath from the moment the markets opened. Then they told us that we wouldn't know for a day and a half. Then they said it was already accounted for because everyone knew it was going to happen. Then they said it's really November - when the next, much larger, tranche of shares are unlocked - that anything is really going to happen.

What all of this tells you is that - pretty much always - you shouldn't listen to the people who are measuring your organization as outsiders. They don't know your business. You do.

The question is: what do you know...and how do you make the best use of it and other measures you need?  Here's the answer.
********
The expression "You manage what you measure" is not only true, it directly impacts the way you run your business in the short and long term.

Let's use Facebook as an example. At the time of this writing, the company has over 955 million users worldwide - nearly half of whom use the service each day. And in the company's early days, big user numbers was exactly what they needed - so that's what they measured.

But now, it's not about the number of users. It's about how the users use the site. Because to succeed in the long-term the company needs to convert those users - on their and their advertisers' behalf - into sales.

What does this have to do with you? Everything. Because just as Facebook is actively redefining what's important in their measurement systems - based on data they have and data they need - you need to do the same.

Now you may be saying, "Oh, that's Facebook. They're big and they're a technology company. We're different."

Sorry, but no, you're not. In fact, every company in every industry that has succeeded or successfully pulled itself up - whether out of bad economic cycles or complete changes in the competitive landscape - always does so through their measures.

Because you manage what you measure.

The way you want to think about this is as a form of executive and management creativity. That you and your team are going to move away from the measurement equivalent of "[we/our industry] have always done it that way" and recognize that there's rich information that you're collecting - and that you're not.

Start by asking:
  • What measures and opportunities are we looking at - because we're used to them - and, as a result, missing others?
  • Do our current measures give us the information we need to understand both existing and emerging markets - local, domestic and global...in and out of our expected sector?
  • Do we have measures that combine real-time (i.e., process), predictive (i.e., strategic) and alternative (i.e., soft) as well as results (i.e., backward looking)?
As you expand your measures, so, too, will you expand your success.


LEAN: Jim Blasingame on Quality and Profitability

For over ten years, Jim Blasingame and I have been having conversations on his radio program, The Small Business Advocate about how to make small businesses succeed. Most of them have been about how to implement quality for the quickest and highest levels of profitability.

He very generously wrote the Foreword to the 20th Anniversary Edition of my book, Managing for Quality and, now, has created a video that gets to the heart of the matter.

Take the three minutes.  He's definitely worth watching.

A Cloud-Based Disaster for Small and Home-Based Businesses

I'm a great fan of David Pogue - mostly because, even though he's best known for his NY Times technology columns and Missing Manual book series, his first (and also) successful career was as a conductor and musician on Broadway.

(I know. One has nothing to do with the other - but there you have it. I come from a family of musicians - including on Broadway. Deal with it.)

On the tech side, one of the reasons why Pogue is so good is because he's willing to say the things that need to be said - whether it's about Cisco's decision to shut down the Flip Camera, taking on the cell phone carriers about their extra, unfair fees or, today, the future of the cloud.

Pogue didn't go there, but if you're a small business owner - particularly home-based - you were reading a real warning of problems and costs to come.

Because what Pogue wrote about is not how wonderful the cloud is and how you should move everything you do onto it - which is what we keep hearing from Apple, Google, HP and everyone else - but what it's going to cost us as the likes of Comcast, TimeWarner and other broadband providers start capping and controlling access and speed to the internet.  And the cloud.

If you're a member of any small business lobbying or support organization, the Rotary or even your local Chamber of Commerce, it's time to start getting your message ready to your internet service providers.

Left to their own devices, they'll keep increasing your costs while reducing your services. For them, you'll be a blip - at most - on their radar. Probably not even that.

For you, this is fair warning.  It's time to act.

(Originally published on Technorati.)