Corporate leaders, I'm here to warn you: there is a deadly presence looming at your company. No, it's not that stray bag of leftover holiday candy someone happened to find last week. It's also not hiding behind the fancy one-cup coffee machine in the break room or on the Internet. It's called "mission distraction" and it is a cold-blooded killer of businesses.
When it comes to distraction at a company, most people usually associate it with employees wasting time online shopping, surfing social networking sites, or other sources of cognitive overload. While this all may result in sub-optimal productivity, it won't lead to the demise of most businesses any time soon. No, the brand of distraction I am talking about comes straight from the executive level, and it is far more lethal than employees watching the latest viral online video one afternoon.
How Distraction Stalks Its Prey
Whenever a company strays from its core market, message or mission, the results can be devastating, particularly for small companies and startups. It seems like such common sense, but it happens all of the time. Because distraction can strike even the best companies with little advanced warning, you should be wary of the signs that it is happening to you and your business.
Here are just a few common causes for distraction at the executive level:
- Waning confidence in current market position or pricing
- Overreaction to existing competitors or new, "hot" entrants in the market
- Sudden stagnation or rapid decline in growth
- Strategic partnerships with no clear metrics for success
- Pressure from investors or board members to change direction
- Internal politics overruling logical decision making
- Successful companies expanding model to markets adjacent to where they achieved their growth
At a given time, any one or a combination of these issues can derail a leadership team and any forward progress a company is making. The fallout can include: unnecessary time and resources wasted by executives on what can amount to a "fool's errand", confusion created amongst the rank and file about the direction of the business, conflicting messages sent in the market about the problem the company is trying to solve, irreparable loss of market share, etc.
Protecting Your Business From The Nightmare
Recognizing the causes of distraction at the executive level is the just the first in a series of steps to keep the corporate killer at bay. In order to further protect your company from mission distraction, you should take some time to examine why your company exists in the first place. Why was it started? What does your company do today better than any other business on the planet? What specific problem in the market does your company solve? Boil it down to one or two simple sentences that act as a "statement of purpose"--something much more simple than a mission statement that acts as a guiding principle in all of your company's decision-making. If you find that you are starting down a path that doesn't support the "statement of purpose", your business is heading toward a potential distraction.
Next, it is important that you set a strategic plan for your business decisions that includes a reasonable timeline and metrics for success. All businesses come to a crossroads where hard decisions need to be made at one time or another. When making risky choices that can affect the trajectory of your company, make sure you put milestones in place in advance to measure your success. Perhaps you may wish to institute a program where you offer a lower price to a certain segment of your market for the next two quarters. During that time, measure sales activity (meetings, calls, etc.), closing cycles, and total revenue against a set of predetermined success metrics for each. At the end of the two quarters, you evaluate and decide your next steps. Pivoting your business or taking risks isn't a distraction if you do it strategically and methodically.
Finally, lead your team to execute on strategic plans with relentless discipline. Think about it: how often do you hear horror stories about strong, focused, decisive teams regardless of size, industry or market? If you implement a well thought plan, with supporting metrics for success, that also supports your company's reason for being, be confident and see it through to completion. Don't worry about outside pressures or influence. Mission distraction occurs when leadership fears being wrong or missing a potential opportunity. If you execute a strategic plan to the end, you might ultimately be wrong, but at least you will have identified the downside risk of being wrong in advance and can manage accordingly.
All companies will experience a certain level of distraction from time to time. The good news is that with a little bit of leadership and foresight, you don't have to let the killer of all businesses claim yours as its latest victim.