By now, you may be tired of hearing about the “new normal” or the “new world order.” Certainly today’s business environment is different, and the future is more uncertain than ever before.
None of us has a crystal ball, but we still need to think about the future. Like an astronomer with a telescope, looking through the right lens may help bring the picture of the future into better focus. Here are some of the concepts that I think will make us better prepared for what should be an interesting few years ahead.
It’s About Time
An increasing awareness of time-related issues is much more important these days as a part of your business strategy. A prospective client who calls your office expects you to respond almost immediately; even 24 hours is too long. Today’s consumers are as overwhelmed and as impatient as you are. If you keep them waiting, they may decide to make a second call — this time to one of your competitors.
Rapid responses are more the rule than the exception these days, but nothing works equally well in all situations. That’s why being able to judge a client’s “sense of urgency” is more important than ever. How long you wait after meeting a prospect to present a proposal may have no relation to when they actually make a decision. Some clients will act immediately if you give them the opportunity; others may not be ready to buy for a month or a year or even longer. Your response time needs to be in sync with your prospects and not just a standard, inflexible process.
Several years ago, most business seminars encouraged three- to five-year planning. In larger organizations, this planning process took weeks or months and resulted in a road map for the business to follow. Today we hear much less about this kind of planning. While we are conditioned to look out as far ahead as we can, today we also need to be light-of-foot and not handcuff ourselves with inflexible long-term plans.
In current conditions there is more of a need for one-year planning, and our longer-term thinking is more strongly influenced by what we learn from day-to-day activities. This means that businesses need to track results more diligently, which will give managers a more positive short-term outcome. This data is also useful to shed light on the longer view. To those long-term–oriented businesspeople who may find this approach frustrating, my advice is to focus less on detailed plans and spend your planning time and energy brainstorming and fantasizing.
Make the Sale
In an earlier column titled “Farmers vs. Hunters,” I discussed the difference in the sales skills needed today compared with the skills needed three to five years ago. In the future, your decision to hire or retain an individual will be strongly influenced by your assessment of their ability to adapt and change. If team members cannot change, their effectiveness is reduced and so is their value to you and your company. And if the cost of getting them to change is too great, it will have a real impact on the bottom line.
Finding ways to determine a team member’s adaptability and willingness to change ahead of time will become as important as many of the skills and tasks traditionally associated with the job you will be asking them to do. Begin to take inventory of your team in this regard and you will be better prepared.
While you may not be able to predict the future, you certainly should be able to start thinking about how to position yourself for whatever is coming next. That process begins by making sure you are looking at the future through the right lens — and through more than one lens. What is predictable is that the future will happen; how your business adjusts and adapts is a choice.
—Mark Richardson is co-chairman of The Case Institute of Remodeling, which provides business educational tools and events for the remodeling industry. firstname.lastname@example.org; 301.229.4600.