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Are you Satisfied?

Are you Satisfied?

20090616-ostrich

    Metronome

      In September of 1960, J.F. Kennedy engaged Richard Nixon in the first presidential candidates’ debate. Kennedy’s opening statement in that debate has now become the famous “I am not satisfied” speech.

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      Besides the rhetorical power of that speech in its repetitive use of the phrase “I am not satisfied…”, what is interesting about it is how Kennedy used it to pull the rug out from under what he knew would be Nixon’s strategy for the debate: Red-baiting. While Kennedy did start by describing the communist threat of the Soviet Union and China, the main body of the speech is about the internal failure of America. Kennedy stole what he knew would be Nixon’s main arguement (the communist threat) and turned it to a debate about domestic, social, and government failures.

      What Kennedy’s team rightly strategized was that in any competitive environment, political or businesses, sustainable success starts with focusing on your own house. You will not win the race by focusing on the competition.

      There are a number of reasons for this.

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      It’s always too late.

      Competing by focusing on the competition is always a ‘trailing’ activity. Your competition moves; you react. This carries the significant risk of always being too late to the dance, and one step behind the music. Further, it breeds a mindset that looks backwards and adjusts to the agenda of others, rather than looking forward and setting your own agenda to make your customers happy.

      It is usually inconsistent with your values.

      There are three main reasons why any initiative fails: inadequate planning, inadequate time, doing something inconsistent with who you are. In my experience new strategies undertaken by businesses that are not in keeping with their values (which are written down in their mission statement, right?) are inevitably abandoned, or worse, lead to unproductive distractions. And if your competition is dictating strategies, there is a great likelihood you will be reacting from a place outside of your best values.

      Your competition is probably wrong.

      In fact from a branding perspective, they almost certainly wrong. Your brand is primarily defined by how your customers perceive you, and by the relationship they have with you. From that perspective, making marketing decisions in reaction to a competitor will throw that relationship out of whack. If your competition really were right for your customers, they would be doing business with them. They aren’t, so focus your decision-making on the customer relationships you already have.

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      Your competitors are a distraction.

      Literally. If focus is one of the absolutely key preconditions for success, to the extent your competitors are able to distract you, they are taking your focus from your customers and your own values. By staying focused on the market environment, on what really matters to you, and on the most direct lines with your customers you will keep your competitors reacting to you rather than the other way around. This is exactly what Kennedy did in 1960. He had not heard Nixon’s opening statement yet, but his team had a pretty good idea that the main thrust would be the ‘communist threat’. Kennedy was able to use his superior rhetorical skills and the brilliant strategy of identifying the greatest threat to America’s security as being internal failures which weakened the country’s ability to deal with its enemies. This worked so brilliantly because it spoke directly to Kennedy’s ‘customers’: it touched their own deep vein of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and connected it to the ‘red scare’ of the times, synthesising a message of real power.

      How do you ensure you are keeping your focus where it belongs? Here is a quick practical checklist based on my work, that will make sure that you are focusing your energies on taking care of your own house:

      1. How are you spending your time? While some time should always be spent scanning your external competitive environment (most small businesses don’t take the time they should at this), the majority of your ‘scanning time’ should be spent finding out what your customers love about your business and what more they need from you.
      2. Size isn’t everything. Just because your competition has added a new space, a new outlet, or a new merger, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do for you or for your customers*. Remember that it’s about profitability, not just sales. Smaller, targeted, efficient operations are often more profitable than larger operations drunk on the big sales figures. And when it is time to move or expand, do so because your customers demand it, not because your competition is pushing you. Like your mother always said “If your competition jumped off a bridge, would you do that too??” She said that, didn’t she?
      3. Are your customers calling the shots? Building your relationship with your customers is more important and more productive than allowing your competition to drag you into a draining battle. Great customer relationships will always be your greatest sustainable competitive advantage. If you know more about your competition than about your customers, then you’ve got your priorities wrong. You’ve also got them wrong if your competition knows more about your customers than you do!
      4. Focus on financial basics: cash flow, profitability, retained earnings. Be as conservative with your financial strategies as you are extravagant in your customer service strategies. Then when the right time comes to make that competition-killing move of expanding or changing to a stronger location, you will have the financial foundation under you to make that move decisively.
      5. Does everyone on your team know where the priorities are? Communicate your priorities and values to everyone on your team and employee group. Let them know that when they are making day-to-day decisions about pricing, products, customer service, etc. that they should be very cautious about reacting to what ‘so and so’ is doing down the street. Remind them that if they are not responding to customer demand, they should re-examine their motives for action. Reacting to changes in the environment is very important, but it should not take their focus from your customers.
      6. Keep your own house in order. Literally. Is your space as attractive to your customers, and as functional for your employees, as it can be? Does your team have the tools to get the job done? Are there any barriers to productivity in your work place? Deal with those before you invest in a fancy new ad campaign just because Acme Inc. down the street did.

      As the last year or so has shown, on Wall Street and on Main Street, the most aggressive, competitive, slickest operations fall like a house of cards if they aren’t focused on what really matters: extraordinary relationships with customers, and sound financial, operational, and human resources fundamentals.

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      “It’s what’s on the inside that matters” is more than just something your grandmother would say when you first commented inappropriately on the phenomenon of physically unattractive people. It is the real foundation of a sustainably competitive business.


      * Size isn’t everything. Want real world proof? Check out the rise and fall of the Royal Bank of Scotland, vs. the Royal Bank of Canada. Until the financial sector reboot, there was lots of crying in Canada about “how come Canadian banks can’t be big and exciting and powerful and sexy like all those European and American banks??” I think we have our answer now.

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      Last Updated on July 8, 2020

      3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

      3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

      It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

      This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

      Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

      When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

      This is why setting priorities is so important.

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      3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

      There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

      1. Eat a Frog

      There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

      Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

      When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

      2. Move Big Rocks

      Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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      You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

      If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

      For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

      To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

      In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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      3. Covey Quadrants

      If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

      Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

      1. Important and Urgent
      2. Important and Not Urgent
      3. Not Important but Urgent
      4. Not Important and Not Urgent

        The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

        Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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        You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

        Getting to Know You

        Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

        In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

        These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

        More Tips for Effective Prioritization

        Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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