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How to Suck Less Every Day

or 4 Things You Should Always Be Doing

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I recently sat on a panel discussion on the topic of preparing a business for “economic change”, which I believe is a euphemism for recession. One of the questions the moderator asked us panelists was to elaborate (in 1 minute or less) on 3 things companies should do before a recession. Here’s how I responded to the question, which was mostly in line with that of the other panelists.

Whether economic good times or challenging, there are 4 things you should always be doing to make sure the business is running in tip top shape:

  1. Assess – You’ve got to understand your current operating reality and ground truth. Any changes you make without this understanding are essentially random. Once you have an understanding of where the strengths, efficiencies, weaknesses, and bottlenecks are in your organization, you can act on them.
  2. Act – This means making a change to how things are getting done, not studying it or commissioning a financial analysis or impact analysis. Compose a cure hypothesis for what will fix a problem area and implement it, quickly and with purpose.
  3. Measure – Collect data and determine if the change you made is yielding the results you want. For example, if you had customer churn, and you made a change to how customers receive support, measure the churn and retention rates and compare them to the pre-change data.
  4. Improve – Using the data you collected measuring your change, update or make a new hypothesis for the cure, then go directly to step 2.

If you read through those bullets carefully (go back now and do it if you skipped over), you will have noticed that there is a loop built-in that looks suspiciously like continuous improvement. Because it is. Whether you are in economic times bull or bear, building in continuous improvement as a cultural work style to your company will ensure that you are doing things in the best possible way for your business at that moment while building in the ability to change and react as the market around you evolves.

That first step, Assess, is critical to the entire process. Much like we as humans have a hard time self-diagnosing ourselves, getting an independent expert or team of experts to conduct the technology assessment will yield much better results than an exercise in introspection. While it’s likely that an internal assessment team will turn up some things, it’s even more likely that the really juicy opportunities will be glossed over or missed entirely. It may seem expensive to bring in an external expert, but if you hire a good one, the value you get will outweigh the cost by a large margin.

And yet it’s not enough to simply know where there are challenges and opportunities within the business, you need to do something about them. Here you have a choice, you can either put a plan of attack together internally and run with it or bring in a change agent to help you execute. The decision on which path to travel depends largely on whether you and your executive team have both the experience and the time to push the desired changes throughout the organization. If you do, then act swiftly and make the needed changes. If you need or want help, then make sure that you bring in the right consultant and also set them up for success.

Believe it or not, you will know fairly quickly whether the change you make is moving the needle in the right direction or not. This is where the measurement comes in. Say for example you are looking to diminish or eliminate customer churn by focusing on and empowering the customer success team. You can easily measure the impact of this by any increase or decrease in customer cancellations and renewals, or by collecting and looking at proxy metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS), sentiment, or engagement with the product by end users.

Ultimately, when you incorporate this cycle and feedback loop as a continuous improvement culture, as a colleague of mine likes to say, you will “suck less every day”. And since sucking less every day leads to better and better outcomes, it’s not a bad place to start.

Where are you going to start your improvement journey? Comment below and let me know.

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