With the month of September now underway, there’s an unmistakable feeling of renewed energy and determination in the air. As children return back to their school routines and the summer break now nothing more than a fond memory, perhaps it’s only natural that there’s this collective drive to take on the challenges before us with spirited enthusiasm.
Of course, how organizations view challenges – either as an outcome of being in competition with others or as an opportunity to push themselves further in order to move one step closer to reaching their full potential – plays a key role in how they approach not only overcoming these obstacles, but the level of creativity and innovation they foster within their workforce.
With this in mind, here are four steps leaders can use to ensure their organizations are not simply reacting to what challenges come their way, but that they have a clear understanding of what their organization needs to do to succeed:
1. Set clear goals independent of what your competition is doing
When it comes to the ability to consistently surprise, delight, and transform customers into loyal advocates, there are few companies that succeed at this as well as Zappos and Apple. Their ability to “deliver happiness” and release unexpected ‘must-have’ technologies respectively, are clearly not mere responses to the challenges they incur from their competition. Instead, these measures are a result of addressing what goals they have for their organization, of what they wanted to create or accomplish that would make them stand out and succeed in their respective fields.
Take Apple, for instance. Can anyone say the iPod, iPhone and iPad were created in response to something their competition was doing? Or were they more in response to the goals they had created within their company, of creating devices no one had yet wanted but after their introduction into the marketplace people would feel the need to have?
If there’s one fault that can be ascribed to Apple’s competition, it’s not their lack of innovation or creativity. Instead, it’s their inability to shift their focus toward creating clear goals for what they want to accomplish irrespective of what others in their field are trying to do.
2. Define plans that fit your organization instead of going the one-size-fits-all route
One of the reasons why Zappos has attained so much praise is not simply because of their clearly stated goal of “delivering happiness” to their customers; rather, it’s because of the fact that they’ve found a way to consistently deliver such a qualitative experience to their customers.
The reason why they were able to be successful in “delivering happiness” was because those in charge realized that they had to define for everyone on their team what it takes to deliver happiness not just to their customers, but to everyone they interact with. This methodology has lead to many books and discussions about how Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and his team went about creating their organization’s culture and with it, their rules of conduct.
Of course, while these might serve as the best practices for this particular organization, it doesn’t mean that they can be simply cut and pasted into another. After all, it’s important that we recognize that these approaches were developed in situ; measures that were implemented to allow the organization to reach their shared goals while taking into consideration such variables as internal/external forces, scope of talent/creativity within their organization, and their organization’s cultural norms and attitudes.
Zappos’ success and reputation is not simply because they were the first. Instead, it’s because they created and followed a plan to reach their goals that fit the culture and needs of their people.
3. Don’t let external factors shift your focus from your objectives
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that we’re easily distracted. And by the looks of things, it seems that we’re getting worse by the day. However, one thing that successful companies like Zappos and Apple share is a laser-like focus on achieving their objectives. While they might make adjustments to respond to various internal or external issues, these adjustments are always done in the light of staying on track with their goals.
Consider, for example, the release of the first iPod by Apple back in October 2001. Back then, we were enduring the first recession of this century, as well as the after effects of the “dot-com bubble” burst. On all fronts, this seemed to be the worst time to introduce a new consumer technology product given how people were not only watching their budgets, but were understandably wary of new technology in general.
Had they followed the lead of every other organization in their industry, Apple would have shelved their plans to launch such a game-changing approach to consuming music until ‘the right conditions’ arrived. The fact that Apple went ahead with releasing a new form of consumer technology during an economic downturn does not simply reflect their drive toward being a technology game-changer; it also demonstrates the committed focus they had on reaching their objectives.
4. Communicate/review work progress often to keep everyone on track
While this should be a given, the reality is that departmental/team silos are still the norm in many organizations today. If you want your organization to succeed, it’s critical that you work to break down these silos to make it easier for employees to point out potential problems/issues, as well as encouraging those in senior level positions to be more forthcoming about possible changes being discussed to address new realities/conditions in the market.
A recent example where we see a clear failure to employ this step is HP’s recent decision to shelve their tablet, the HP TouchPad, a mere seven weeks after its release. If HP’s senior management had little faith in the profitability of the TouchPad tablet, it’s clear they didn’t discuss it with those they assigned to develop and market this new product line.
What’s more, the fact that their company’s website had issues dealing with the surge in customers wanting to buy their tablets at “fire sale” prices showed a lack of clear communication between those in charge and those in the front lines about the risk of a server overload (an interesting dilemma for a company that wants to shift to more enterprise-related services like IT adaptive infrastructures).
Although no one can anticipate every possible negative outcome, the mess surrounding the discontinuation of the HP TouchPad product line is a clear example of what happens when various levels within an organization fail to keep the lines of communication open and moving both ways.
While competition can certainly be a healthy thing, by employing the four steps described above, organizations can ensure they approach such challenges with a focus of not simply trying to beat the competition, but on implementing measures which allow them to tap into the full potential of their employees.
In so doing, organizations stand a far better chance of not only reaching their shared goals but of joining the ranks of those who consistently exemplify models of organizational success.