It's never too soon when you're starting a new business to take a break, catch your breath, look around, and make sure you're heading in the right direction, doing the right things in the right way, and chasing the right rabbit. Chasing too many rabbits at once is a formula for failure. Doing things just to keep busy (or because you can't sit still) is both debilitating and dumb. And it doesn't matter how fast you're going if you're on the wrong road. So, do yourself a favor and slow down occasionally. This isn't anything you don't know. What matters is having the discipline to stop and take stock of where you are and to "course correct" mistakes in a timely fashion before they become unrecoverable failures. Left to themselves, problems will fester and only get worse-- they rarely go away. Fixing things doesn't happen by itself. I've developed a simple set of steps to guide you in the process. I call these the 5 A's:
Audit: figure out where to look for opportunities/exposures and what to look for;
Analyze: determine what's going on--right and wrong--and when changes need to be made;
Act/Adjust: bite the bullet and do what needs to be done, but don't take on too much at one time;
After Action: see what happened, good and bad, and,
Anticipate: get started on what's next.
Keep in mind that tweaks are fine-- not everything is a teardown or a complete redo. You don't test the depth of a puddle by jumping in with both feet. As we like to say, start small and scale. Importantly, don't plan on stopping, because this is an ongoing, constant, and iterative process where you get better a little bit at a time all the time. But only if you get started and keep at it. Not all the time-- not every day-- but in a regular and systemic way. Just like innovation, continuous improvement is not a department or a part time thing or a chore. Always striving to get better at what you do is part of the culture of the best businesses.
The second and equally important part of the process is proper metrics. What gets measured in your business is what ultimately gets done because that's what you are paying attention to. Of course, watching and measuring the right things is paramount.
Metrics are all the rage today because Americans love nothing more than keeping score. All kinds of folks-- well-intentioned and also awful people--play off that desire every day. I can remember in the simpler times when we thought that clickbait headlines and listicles for losers were about as low as you could go in the corrupt competition for eyeballs. I warned then that tricked traffic, vicarious visitors, and the kind of morons attracted to the latest news on Momma whoever's new diet weren't worth reaching or pitching to in any case because they weren't buying anything worth selling-- but at least we thought they were living, breathing human beings.I said:
"...if you're advertising on a web site, and its primary traffic drivers are hacks, tricks and clever pet pix, what are its visitors really worth? Even assuming that those visitors are people and not tracking robots?
I'd argue that they're not worth your time and certainly not worth your money. Instead of attracting people who might be interested in your products or services and also highly influential, you can end up spending money to attract mobs of easily-influenced people who probably couldn't explain how they got to a given website if they were asked."
How naïve I was: things can always get worse and more disgusting. Because the race to the bottom never ends, and lowlifes can be innovative, too. The latest craze of fraudulent exaggeration allows you to buy bots to tweet your site and acquire fake robotic followers to build up your alleged "audience," a service provided by shady scumbags in foreign lands. Duping people into thinking your social media voice (your megaphone) is much bigger and broader than reality isn't much different from the many ways that marketers seeking to monetize their media have lied about their metrics, viewership and reach since the beginning of time. But that's a swamp for another day.
For the moment, what's critical as you review your business is to be sure that you're measuring the right behaviors and results in the right way. To do this correctly, you've got to go all the way. Too often we settle for part of the story or fall for the form and forget the substance. I see this all the time in software and solution implementations. Too many IT professionals think they are keeping score, but they aren't really asking deep enough questions or looking hard enough at what's going on in order to actually know the score.
Effective software rollouts are a three-step process and every step counts. First, you have deployment -- getting the stuff on everyone's machines and devices. You can't stop there. Second, you have adoption-- are people using the new tools and solutions-- are the dogs eating the dogfood? That's a good next step, but you're not home yet. Finally: results. Is the whole big hairy deal making a real difference in your operations and your bottom line? If not, it wasn't worth the trip. This is the hardest and most uncomfortable question because no one might like the answer. The rule here is simple: if you've made a mistake, you've got to acknowledge that bad news and make the necessary changes. You should never stick to a mistake just to try to justify the time and money you spent making it.
Metrics are messy, but they're the keys to the kingdom; you've got to master the ones that matter. And they're fluid. Smart businesses are flexible enough to shift the ways they keep score (even when this may be unpopular with their customers) if the new approach makes more sense and is a better and more representative way to track the behaviors that drive the bottom line. A very relevant example is the recent shift that Starbucks made to its rewards program. Instead of simply tracking store visits, Starbucks shifted to tracking what the visitors/customers actually spent which, of course, makes so much more sense. The airlines figured this out a while ago and adjusted their frequent flyer programs to emphasize dollars spent over miles traveled or segments flown.
Part of your review process should focus on the same kinds of questions and concerns. Maybe you're measuring what's easy to measure. Maybe you're measuring things that don't matter and wasting time and money doing that. Maybe you're too focused on squeaky wheels and not on long-term loyal customers. There are a lot of ways to get this wrong and only one way to get it right. Get started.