Pilot Your Business Like a Performance Boat Not an Aircraft Carrier
Aircraft carriers move slowly, need a lot of time to change direction and are so investment- intensive that protecting them from risk is critical. Performance boats move speedily, change with a touch of the wheel and accept that some tolerance of risk makes for an exhilarating ride.
My medium and small business clients often stress their size as a benefit to their buyers who may also be considering doing business with a corporate behemoth. Medium and small equals: agile, flexible, fewer layers in the organization, speedier decision making, responsive to changes in the environment. Too often, however, these companies get so hung up on aircraft carrier-like thinking that they do not deliver the benefits of the high performance boat they think they’re piloting.
Consider these three common situations and whether you pilot your company like an aircraft carrier or a performance boat:
- Evaluating your offering mix (products and services): How much data do you require in order to assess the effectiveness of your offerings? One year of sales or two, three or four? Costs going back months or years? Market research? Customer compliments or complaints? The pilot of an aircraft carrier would assemble reams of data before beginning the evaluation process, and would think long and hard about changing the product mix. A performance boat pilot would realize that data from the past 6-12 months is enough to know whether it’s a keeper or it’s time to retire and replace it. If you’ve been paying any attention to the ‘waters’ you’re sailing in, you know that buyers’ preferences and needs change quickly. Those who change ahead of the wind make the most headway.
- Invention, innovation and improvement: While true inventions are quite hard, innovations and improvements are easy if you’re piloting a performance boat. You look closely at your current offerings and your current buyers and you ask two questions: 1) in what way can we extend or vary our offerings to meet other needs of our customers? And 2) what other customer groups have needs similar to those of our current customers? Once you’ve identified innovations and improvements and new similar customers, you market and sell. The pilot of an aircraft carrier would check and recheck, get confirmation from outside authorities and calculate even the smallest risk of flat sales. The performance boat pilot quickly adjusts course and keeps moving.
- Setting goals and creating an operational plan to meet them: A performance boat pilot will use the technology at his/her fingertips (GPS, nautical maps, what can be seen with the naked eye) to aid navigation. She/he will of course have enough fuel and provisions on board, plus redundant communication equipment and lifejackets for safety, and will let others know the destination and the route in order to mitigate the likeliest risks. Then they’ll be off. The aircraft carrier pilot will study the seas, check many sources for information and drill safety practices for all conceivable risks. I’m not saying the aircraft carrier pilot should not do these things. What I am saying is that too many medium and small business pilots invest so many resources into setting the goal and creating the operational plan that they don’t successfully navigate the trip.
As the pilot of a medium or small business, invest your resources at the appropriate level. If an offering is disappointing you, retire or replace it. It won’t be missed. If your observations (your ‘gut’) tells you it’s time for new offerings to current customers or new customers for your current offerings, then go for them today. When you’re thinking of the future, set a goal and begin operations as soon as possible to reach it. Don’t act like a lumbering, risk averse aircraft carrier. Be a nimble performance boat that quickly responds to sea changes.