To Know Where You Are Going, You Have to First Know Where You Are

I have a good sense of direction.  I used to think this was something that was to be learned.  After all, I was a Boy Scout, an Eagle Scout, no less.  And we were taught all the skills of using a map and compass. I’ve backpacked in the mountains for days using only a map, compass and terrain as my guide.  I have gotten lost and had to go through the painstaking task of getting back on the path.  What I have found is that a good sense of direction comes naturally for some (like me), but it’s rather difficult for others. For some people, it is a skill that takes much practice. Fundamentally, it all comes down to this simple idea, that you have to know where you are, and where you want to be. Then it’s just a matter of coming up with a plan to get there.  This applies to businesses as well.  To know where you are going, you have to first know where you are.

Finding your way in the field

In the field, when you are lost, there is a method to finding where you are.  The method is called “triangulation”.  You are essentially trying to make a triangle on the map, with your location being one point, and two other landmarks serving as the other two points of the triangle.

Let me try to explain it in fairly simple terms.  Let’s say you find yourself lost, but you are at the top of a ridgeline.  You have your topographic map, and since you know about where you are, you can roughly guess.  But you need to know exactly so that you can find your way back to where you are supposed to be.  To do that, you need to find at least two other landmarks.  So you look off into the distance.  Perhaps you see a mountain with a distinct shape.  Or maybe you see a water tower.  Or you can see a town in the distance.  By finding at least two other objects, you can search for them on the map.  Once you have found them, you can take compass bearings to determine exactly where you are.

If you only find one landmark, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where you are.  But if you find two, you can draw lines back to where they intersect, thus forming a triangle.  The point at which they intersect should be exactly where you are standing.

So, what’s the point of this for my business?

If your business is floundering, you need to first figure out where you are.  To do that, you need to follow the orienteering tips from above, and utilize and many points as possible for measurement.  But what types of measures should we use?  For both orienteering and business, I would suggest utilizing benchmarks that are (1) clear and unmistakable, (2) easy to measure and (3) fixed and unchanging.  Let’s explore each:

Clear and Unmistakable

Too many business owners utilize measures that are not clearly defined.  For example, what exactly is “customer satisfaction”?

Are sales in your business clearly defined?If sales in your business vary greatly from month to month, has a long sales cycle, or has a long fulfillment cycle, then utilizing sales numbers alone as a measure for business success is difficult.

Easy to Measure

I just gave two examples of items that are hard to measure.  Customer satisfaction is difficult unless you have a large population base and a validated methodology like the Net Promoter Score.  If you do, then you might be able to measure it.  If you have a lot of volatility in sales, then a measure of sales revenue might not be a good predictor of success.  A better predictor might be how many proposals are in the pipeline, or how many appointments your sales team is generating.

Fixed and Unchanging

Once you determine a measure that you can clearly identify and measure, you must also make sure that it is unchanging.  You can’t benchmark if the mark keeps moving.  In retail, we often use same-store sales as a measure by looking at the sales numbers from the previous year during the same period.  But even with that, you have to take into account other things like weather events, economic factors and changing event schedules.

So now what?  How do I get back on track?

When lost in the field, figuring out where you are is just the first part of the equation.  Next, you have to figure out how to get yourself back on the right path.  I remember one time we were hiking in Eastern Kentucky and we had gotten off our path.  Once we discovered where we were, we figured out we had to backtrack back down a ridgeline and find where the trail split off.  Another time we realized that we had just been hiking down the wrong side of the valley, and we needed to get across to the other ridgeline.  Fortunately, we could see where the trail came back to our side, and we just continued on until we found our trail.

I believe the same lessons apply to businesses who find themselves off course as well.  You can choose one of two strategies (1) backtrack and get back online with where you need to be, or (2) redefine your strategy and press on until you get your business back on track.

Backtracking

Backtracking is never a lot of fun.  Who wants to admit that they’ve been going the wrong direction?  But sometimes it is necessary.  What does this look like in business?  It depends on how far you have gone and how severely off course you are.  Perhaps you have made some bad hires.  Maybe you started down a path with a product that left your customers dissatisfied.  Or perhaps your new pricing strategy just didn’t work out as you planned.

Going public with your redirection is often the best plan.  Telling your customers that you made a mistake and you are getting back to your strategy can be an effective way of improving relations with your customers and building trust.  Transparency is a popular trend in business today, and this may be a good example of how to use it.

Redefining Your Strategy

Sometimes when you are off-course you realize that you are actually headed in the right direction, you just haven’t figured out how to get there yet.  Many wives will recognize this approach, as this is the common answer most men give when they are lost and don’t want to admit it.  But in business, it may actually be a valid approach.

Over time your customers may have pulled you off course.  Not because they are bad, but because there is a need out there yet to be fulfilled.  Perhaps your design team has stumbled across a better solution, but without the right marketing and branding, it hasn’t been recognized for what it is.  Whatever the cause, we sometimes just need to make minor course corrections to get to where we want to be.  No backtracking needed.

Now get on with it

Now that you know what you need to do, just get on with it.  Easy, right?  Not always.  I work with businesses all the time who are trying to get back on track.  Being a business coach gives me the opportunity to work with people who are trying to move their business in a new direction and accomplish great things.  If you want to take your business to the next level, contact me today.