Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Getting Your Business Back in Shape (re-released and update)

It is the fourth week in January and the annual migration of the New Year’s resolution crowd is already departing gym’s across the United States; not to be seen again until next year.

At the start of each new year there is an enthusiasm to get back into personal shape. This same phenomena is present in the business world. Each year business owners declare, “This year will be different. We will have a well thought out strategic plan. We will have an actionable yearly tactical plan from which we will judge our progress. We will hold regularly scheduled staff meetings to review our plans, assess the actions of our competitors, and examine our financial health. Yes, 2012 will be different!”  And by the end of January.... they are back into their old routine, with the fire drills of each and every day dictating the rest of the year’s agenda. And like the fitness birds migrating through the gym each year, this cycle will sure to be repeated over again the next year.

I want to share with you a different story; one with exciting results and very much analogous to the business world, in hopes that it will inspire you to stick with your resolution.

At the end of November, a good friend of mine sent the following text message, “I need help.” He wanted to get back into shape and after numerous attempts on his own, he felt the aid of an outside expert was needed. I agreed to be his personal trainer. Before we began I wanted to hear what goals he had in mind in order to assess if it was realistic. He stated two specific objectives; (1) get back down to 175 lbs and (2) have a pool-worthy body for a vacation he planned in late March. We then looked at his current state; 5’11” and 198 lbs. We had a little over four months (18 weeks) interrupted by Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, to lose 23 lbs. and build some muscle. His goals were possible, but would require a very strong commitment to reach them. He agreed to commit to a plan that I would guide him to establish and we began.

Much like the human body, a company without steady work “on” the business versus “in” the business will too become out of shape and lose the market strength, they once enjoyed. So, exactly how do you get back into shape, or get into shape for the first time ever, and what can you expect from the process?

  1. Look in the mirror. Are you happy with the current state? Is the performance what you expect? Are sales meeting your expectations? Are you stronger? Are you still as agile and responsive as you once were? How do your customers view you? What will you look like in 3 years?
  1. If you don’t like what you see or are not sure what direction you are going do something about it.
  1. Set measureable, realistic goals to be completed at a specific time. In the business world this means capturing your vision, and balancing that with a clear unbiased view of how you stand relative to the competition and in the market for which you chose to compete. Steve Covey said it best in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind”.
  1. If you have never done step number three or don’t know how, don’t let your ego prevent you from engaging an outside expert. A business strategist brings two very valuable tools to the table; (1) experience working with a variety of companies in various industries from which you will benefit, and (2) they will stop you from drinking your own bathwater (declaring something is core strength when in reality it is not all that different from your competitors).
  1. Craft a written plan and stick to it. This means you review the plan regularly and use it to guide how you and your team utilize your time, invest your resources, and select your people.
  1. Accept the fact that change will involve some pain. Operating leaner is hard and demanding. Holding employees and yourself accountable to specific and measurable goals is also tough. Fight through the pain knowing what you are doing is for the long-term health of your company.
  1. Beware of excuses used to revert back to old behaviors or not complete an assigned objective on time. It is not physically possible to complete everything in the fourth quarter because you either procrastinated or came up with reasons for why it couldn’t be done earlier in the year as originally agreed.
  1. Most likely progress will be quicker for younger companies than older. That’s just nature. Older habits and patterns of behavior are tougher to change. But don’t use this as an excuse not to.
Now for the rest of the fitness story: The first few weeks were quite hard. He was a bit embarrassed being seen lifting the small amount of weights on the bar. He complained of being constantly sore. He would try to throw out an excuse or two for skipping a day; “Bad knees” and “I forgot my brace” were the excuses he used when I first suggested he start a running regiment. However, to his credit, he always showed up for our workouts. I knew we had turned a significant corner when on week eight he suggested going to the gym on one of our off days. That same week he set a goal to run a 5K. He had embraced the change in behavior. I was no longer pulling him along. His own goals and the measurable progress were now providing the motivation.

With eight weeks to go he is down to 182 lbs., having lost 16 of the 23 lbs. we targeted. He could barely run for 20 minutes when we first started, but can now run a full 5K in 30 minutes and is working to improve his time. 12 pushups in a row are now 40. He has doubled the amount of weight he is able to lift and fits into clothing sizes that he has not fit into since college. We’ve recently incorporated swimming into our routine and he is already thinking a triathlon may be a worthy goal for 2013.

Like your body, there is no shortcut to getting your company back into shape. It requires an investment in time and resources and an absolute dedication to follow through. The rewards however can be amazing. Your leaner, stronger company will be better able to compete and adapt effectively in an increasingly demanding, competitive, and ever changing world market. So, get back into the gym!

February 2014 UPDATE: Change means introducing new behavior.  The longer it is practiced the less it becomes 'new' and the more it becomes the norm.  But this requires a certain level of forced discipline over time.  My friend did not engage in this new behavior long enough to make it a habit - the new norm.  First his visits to the gym dropped off.  Then less running.  And yes, he was loaded with excuses for why.  Then the old eating habits returned.  At first these were exceptions, then the violations became
more forgivable.  Then no forgiveness was necessary.  The weight came back. The strength faded.  All progress was lost.

Change is hard for an individual.  It is even harder for a business because of the multitude of individuals (employees) who have to become both believers and practitioners of the new way. As the CEO, you set the tone. Are you sticking to the plan? Are your employees? What are the repercussions for failing to hit goals and milestone? As you can see here, it is easy to revert to the old way.

Need a personal trainer to get your metro Atlanta business back in shape.  Let's talk over a cup of coffee.  Contact me here.

About the author. Mike Gomez is President of Allegro Consulting, a growth specialty firm helping turnaround businesses wrestling with stagnant growth. He grew his very first client’s business from $8M to $35M in just two years. Mike is also a prolific speaker, writer, three-time marathoner, a former military officer and pilot of both aircraft and helicopters. www.allegroconsultant.com