What’s on your agenda these days? Whether your business is scraping by or flush with cash, you’re probably spending a little bit of time thinking about the future. Which future would that be? Next month, post-tourist season, post-COVID, or some other future? You might be thinking about how to react to this or that, or how you’ll do business until COVID is over, or something else more specific to your business and how things may have changed since mid-March.
React vs respond
The difference between react and respond has been on my mind a lot lately. The challenges businesses face don’t change all that much, until they do.
Remote work is a great example of this. For decades, “managers” insisted remote work couldn’t be done at their business. Suddenly, in the space of weeks, remote work somehow became possible. To be sure, it’s a challenge when you have a house full of kids, but a lot of people have made their way through that maze to a productive place.
When someone who manages people working (most) desk jobs says “We can’t do remote work”, it’s usually a reflex reaction to a perceived threat – the loss of control (as if they have ‘control’). Control is rarely what anyone thinks it is, if it exists at all. “How will I know if they’re working?” is another decades-old symptom of this.
Getting back on track, when you react, it’s typically a reflex. A reflex action logically gives control to whatever stimulated that reaction. While there can be a measured reaction, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m calling a reaction something you do that’s driven by instinct or reflex. In other words, the fight or flight amygdala is driving based on a perceived fear, even if you aren’t escaping physical danger.
When you respond, it’s something planned, measured, and (hopefully) well considered – again, defined for purposes of this discussion.
The future’s on our minds
The future might be on your mind. Is your business facing challenges that could kill it in the next quarter? The next five years? The next 20 years? Your company’s ability to deal with the speed of change might be involved, or it might be something simple like a technology you depend on that’s likely to be displaced over the next decade.
You might not care about that when it comes to forecasting next quarter’s revenue, but it could definitely impact the valuation of your business for sale in a decade. It’s easy to wave that off today when you’re worried about making your nut this month. Trouble is, these things can’t be planned for or implemented overnight. They require consideration well in advance, particular for the large number of business owners who view the sale of their business as the source of funds for their retirement.
Assumptions vary in quality
The quality of your consideration before a response occurs is everything. A lot of our consideration during this process is based on assumptions. Your assumptions might be good, true, dated, false, dogma-driven, ego-driven, and so on.
Question every single assumption that drives your plan / direction for the future. It’s painful when you find one is no longer true, but it’s better to learn that today than five years from now.
Is something still profitable? Prove it to yourself. Is something not profitable? Prove it. What should you stop doing? Does the data back up these assumptions?
Take everything down to bare metal. Make it prove itself true or false, valuable or not.
Once you arrive at what you think are your truths about the business / market going forward, it’s time to assess your current solutions and decide if they get to come along as you move toward the future.
What about rebuild?
One thing we haven’t discussed is rebuild. Going back to the assumption discussion, what if all your assumptions, experience, and knowledge are signaling a future much different from today? What’s your next step? It might be rebuild.
A rebuild is a form of response, and it’s also a longer term effort requiring even more consideration about what is, what no longer is, what never was, and what your forecast as what will be.
This thought process can be useful when things get tough, really bad, or perhaps a little weird and you’re trying to figure out how to move ahead given your forecast of whatever you think life looks like around the next curve.
Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter,or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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