In the final instalment of our take on ‘A Christmas Carol’, we’ll look at some of ways you can avoid becoming a Scrooge this Christmas.
In the tale, the future is represented by a dark Phantom that slowly, gravely, silently approaches Scrooge. Interestingly, while most adaptations of A Christmas Carol have different takes on the earlier ghosts, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is generally always depicted in the same way - the dark, shrouded figure of Death.
Similarly, we can all interpret our past and present in different ways - but we all generally share a perception of the future as an inevitable, unknown and slowly encroaching entity.
Of course, the unknown is part of the fear that leads to people becoming complacent about the present, but it doesn’t have to be. Armed with an understanding of where you’ve come from and where you are just now, it’s a simple thing to plan for the future.
The road ahead doesn’t need to be a clear path
One of the biggest mistakes we see businesses make is spending too much time trying to perfect their plan of action.
This is one of the traps that the future lays for us. We can’t anticipate every eventuality or plan for every outcome - trying to do so can result in a never-ending state of “what if...”. Indeed, the Law of Triviality afflicts many businesses and could very well become one of the three ghosts in a modern day rendition of ‘A Christmas Carol’!
Focusing on minor details is easy, simple, safe and manageable. It can be productive, but when you’re tackling a broad task like setting out a direction for your business there are so many minor details that they begin to consume the process and cause you to lose sight of the bigger picture. In development parlance, this is “feature creep”, but in business terms it could be referred to as perfection creep - an unattainable ideal that prevents you from achieving your actual goals.
How many times has your organisation ground to a halt because of perfection creep? How did that work out?
A journey on a path of minor details will be a long one (and probably send you round in circles). You don’t need a clear path - you just need a clear direction.
Scrooge had to be led to his own grave to find his direction, but fortunately nothing quite so extreme is required for your business. You already have the tools you need to start that journey - you just need to use them.
Reflect on your past
In the first post in our series, we talked about reflecting on your reasons for starting your business and understanding what your biggest wins were.
These are important because they tell a great story to your staff, customers and suppliers. They might tell your staff that family values are important to your business. Or tell your customers that organic ingredients are key to your products. Or to your suppliers that your customer service is better than your competitors.
These stories shape how your brand is perceived and align your stakeholders with your business. This naturally influences how your business progresses into the future. It helps ensure your customer service is of a high standard. It means customers recommend you to others. It builds trust with suppliers.
Some of the most effective businesses we’ve worked with have worked well as an organisation because they had a shared understanding of why they were doing what they do.
Audit your present
Don’t spend time dithering around trying to create a grandiose plan for the future, when all you need to be doing is taking a pragmatic look at your business today.
What’s going well and what isn’t?
There should be a very simple set of priorities created by answering those questions, and it’s important to answer them both. Falling into the trap of dwelling on the negatives can lead to you missing opportunities that should be exploited.
Compare your past aspirations and motivations with what your business has become. How do those things stack up? Are you heading in the right direction or are you spending too much time trying to clear a path? Scrooge didn’t wake up on Christmas morning and decide to “make a plan”...
Prioritise then iterate
It can be overwhelming for businesses when they try to implement every marketing tactic or business strategy they are exposed to, particularly smaller businesses or those who are venturing into new areas.
Perfection creep might be manageable when you are in familiar territory, but it can get out of control pretty quickly if you’re exploring the unknown.
Instead, simplify the process by prioritising what’s important. Take those aspects of the present that can lead to complacency (easy, simple, safe, manageable) and transform them into tools of change. Then repeat.
Think of it as Agile for marketing. The principles of Agile are:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Consider how these rules would apply to your business;
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Where does your story have more value? Written in the staff handbook or talked about amongst the team? There’s a difference between your core values becoming a checklist for employees to follow, and something that they actively practice.
Working software over comprehensive documentation
The literal interpretation of this principle is clearly only relevant for development projects, but it alludes to what I’ve said earlier about perfection creep. Your packaging should not take priority over your product.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
In this digital age, when we try to define the value of customers, we are burdened with data points and metrics. But the value of a customer is much more than what they spend with your business. Everything from the feedback they give you, to what they teach your staff is valuable - and the more you embrace that idea, the more value it will deliver.
Responding to change over following a plan
This is critical. Plans are always flawed. They’re based on assumptions and unless you’re Nostradamus, your plan probably won’t come to fruition. The key is to be agile enough to adapt to changing situations - how you exploit an opportunity or deal with a negative situation will determine where your business ends up in the future.
Choose a direction over a path.
By breaking the master-plan into small chunks, it becomes easy, simple, safe and manageable. You can turn the traits that can lead to complacency into assets that give you and your business direction.
So, what’s stopping you?
As the Christmas holidays come closer, take (a little) time to reflect on the journey your business has taken to get to where it is today. What’s stopping you from achieving your future goals?
We work with clients of all shapes and sizes to help them solve problems and grow their businesses.
If you need a hand settling on a direction for 2020 and beyond, fill in the form below and we can start off the New Year the right way.