1. What disruptive forces threaten our business?
Every business faces external forces that are disruptive or threatening to success or, even, viability. These could be changes in consumer preferences, supply of new employees, or distribution channels. For instance, the rise in online commerce gave way to more economical modes of marketing to and interacting with consumers. Businesses that stand between buyers and sellers can now find themselves edged out by those that engage customers directly. The music labels often focused on the piracy that Napster and file sharing fostered, but overlooked the way those offerings altered music listening. Apple, meanwhile, exploited the opportunity with the iPod and iTunes Store.
2. Are we building our business for tomorrow?
The work to keep a business running is enough to keep you busy. But being busy and building a business for tomorrow aren’t necessarily the same thing. The hard part is making sure today’s activities are building tomorrow’s opportunities. Take customer service as an example. Many consider customer service merely as a cost to be managed rather than a chance to strengthen a brand and loyalty. If you’ve got the attention of a customer, use it wisely. An ethos that engages and supports customers rather than minimizes interactions with them has a tendency to bode well for the future.
3. Are we attracting the best workforce and doing what we need to retain it?
One of the largest costs of any business today is the recruitment, training and integration of talented employees. Long gone are the days when an employee starts a career at the same company he or she retires at. Good managers are hard to come by, as are experts that catalyze innovation and development. Star employees can be cherry-picked by competitors or start their own ventures. But across the board, the businesses that perform the best also hire and retain the best. Quality people build quality businesses. Make sure your day-to-day decisions reflect this.
4. Why are potential customers holding out?
Many businesses get feedback from current customers or prospects that are already deep in the sales cycle. You should also have the backbone and creativity to inquire with those who are not buying. Why? This data will help you identify the true impediments to growing your business. Rather than competitors, you might find that ineffective marketing, unremarkable products and offers, or too many options are the culprits of customer inaction.
5. What’s the dead weight we need to eliminate?
Every business has something that drains resources without delivering value back. This is dead weight the business is fighting against to stay afloat. Dead weight could be the rock star sales rep of three years ago that now spends more time on Farmville than rainmaking. It could be a product that never launched but is held onto for sentimental value. It could be an expensive vendor that no one takes the time to replace. The dead weight that’s the hardest to recognize and drop, though, is a philosophy that no longer matches the reality of the business or its customers.—Charlie Gilkey