How to find, create and implement profitable opportunities in any economy
Call it a slow-down or a recession, the impact is the same—times are challenging. We now must look with greater attention at what we do, the decisions we make, and their impact on service, performance and profitability. Surviving the recession is not just about cutting expenses — it is about changing how we think about every aspect of our business. Tough times require a look at our challenges as ways to regroup, realign and redefine our approach to being successful.
Businesses are constantly confronted with change. The real issue isn’t the change itself — rather, it is how we welcome, use and respond to change. To be successful in a changing world we must become better at inventing, responding, communicating, sharing and staying focused on our core strengths. In any economy, we must be great at the hunt for opportunities.
Today, great organizations are nimble and flexible; they are constantly on the hunt for opportunities. They regularly review every aspect of their businesses looking for efficiencies, improvements and new ways to grow their top and bottom lines; they know their businesses. They openly accept and welcome change because it forces them to improve.
Great organizations choose their employees wisely and based on their ability to contribute in a meaningful and results-oriented way. Employees are the connection to the outside world, offering ideas, creating opportunities and finding ways to be better. They are the connection to customers, and the more effective they are, the more customers share their needs, values and interests. Great employees ask powerful questions and really listen to answers. They gather information the organization needs to understand its world.
Today’s great organizations share information easily and openly; they eliminate the barriers and obstacles to ensure all employees have what they need to be informed, invent opportunities, solve problems and respond in clever and efficient ways. They have a plan and work the plan each day. They take full responsibility for their results and hold each employee accountable for performance and success. Employees are retained based on their ability to advance the value and success of the business. Employment without results is not guaranteed.
We live in a world of business turbulence, and according to experts, turbulence has quickly become our new “normal.” In this world of turbulence, use these five principles to guide your organization to sustainable success:
- Expect change and learn to welcome it; be resilient.
- Know your business: know your purpose, core strengths and everything about your customers and competition.
- Share what you know; eliminate all obstacles to open and honest communication; rely on your employees and customers to keep you informed.
- Learn to focus on opportunities; approach each day with optimism to see ways to create value and improve efficiencies.
- Own your success; build a plan and work it each day.
#1 Expect Change and learn to welcome it; be resilient.
Change is our new “normal.” Organizations that understand change is actually a “constant” adapt to change and use it to drive their success; they learn to stop fighting it. Charles Kettering said, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that brings on progress.” Successful organizations see changing environments as opportunities to invent new products and services, expand their areas of expertise, reinvent, redefine and reposition; it is a way to expand what they know and do. They see change as a performance enabler; it forces each person in the organization to better understand his or her talents and strengths and to access them as needed for the world.
Change provides challenges and obstacles that require businesses to stop and think, then respond, learn, grow, discover their potential, improve and find opportunities. Welcoming change leads to more confident, innovative and successful organizations.
Create a mental shift about change in your organization. As author Tom Peters so adeptly said, “To be built to last is to be built for change.”
- How connected are you to your world to know what changes are happening?
- How well does your organization accommodate change?
- What three things can you do to help your teams become more change-aware, change-accepting and change-resilient?
#2 Know your business: know your purpose, strengths and everything about your customers and competition.
Clarity is critical, particularly in our changing world. What are your core strengths? What value do you provide? Knowing your business in great detail is a requirement of knowing how to create value in a changing workplace. Knowing your business will be critical to guide your search for opportunities, as you must play to your strengths, talents and highest value areas.
Not everyone, nor every business, is good at everything. It is therefore critical for all businesses to understand their core competencies. Try this exercise. Revisit the SWOT analysis. The “S” refers to your strengths, “W” refers to your weaknesses, “O” refers to opportunities and “T” refers to threats. Analyze your business — do a full 360-degree walk around your business — then observe and assess what you see as a strength, weakness or threat (we’ll talk about opportunities shortly). Review the following areas:
- Company culture
- External environment
- Workplace environment
- Sales and marketing
- Reporting and financial information
- Competitive advantage
Notice everything and complete the “S,” “W” and “T” of your SWOT analysis; don’t complete the “O” or opportunity section yet — we’ll get to that in step four below. The point is to be successful in any economy requires you to fully understand your organization because you will exploit your strengths, fix your weaknesses and address your threats as ways to create profitable and meaningful opportunities. The starting point is a robust understanding of your business. The easiest way to hunt for opportunities is to use the SWOT analysis as a discussion document.
- What makes you great?
- What do you do better than any other business?
- What is your business purpose and what value do you provide?
#3 Share what you know; eliminate all obstacles to open and honest communication; rely on your employees and customers to keep you informed.
We are in an age of extreme connection. Millions of times a day people connect on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. They share information about what they think, feel, are concerned with and are passionate about. Communication is the method to share information. Organizations that remove the obstacles to communicate consistently outperform all others. Information is the key to great decisions, so the flow of information must be unencumbered and uninterrupted.
Your employees and customers are your eyes and ears to a more significant worldview. Imagine the impact on your SWOT analysis of including their ideas, perspectives, contributions and suggestions. In a period of exponential change, management does not have all the ideas or information. Instead they must rely on their employees and customers to stay connected to the world.
Your people are your profits. They are also the source of your greatest ideas. Hire the right one, engage them, connect with them, ask them and build a rapport with them. Loyal employees share more information and are more emotionally invested. Inspire your employees to be your eyes and ears to the world and then share what they hear, think, feel and imagine. This will activate their opportunity-focused thinking.
The same is true with customers — focus on building loyalty. Loyal customers share information and ideas, both good and bad; “satisfied” customers don’t. Their comments will help you know what is fact, from which you will be able to develop the right opportunities.
- How well is internal company information shared with employees?
- How are your employees and customers used in gathering and sharing information?
- What two improvements can you make to move information more efficiently in your organization?
#4 Learn to focus on opportunities; approach each day with optimism to see ways to create value and improve efficiencies.
Optimism is key to create an organization with an “opportunity” focus. By a commitment to assessing all events with a positive, “there is value here,” and “this will make us better” attitude, opportunities easily and quickly arise.
Opportunity thinking is a significant component of every successful organization’s culture; it is how they approach each day. Organizations that develop a straightforward, open and full-participation strategy for finding and implementing opportunities focus on value-building, performance and success. These organizations constantly review every aspect of their businesses looking for efficiencies, improved effectiveness, greater value and becoming better connected to their employees and customers. These organizations follow George Bernard Shaw’s thinking: “Some men see things as they are, and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were, and say, ‘Why not?’”
Now that you have observed and assessed your business, you have a list of strengths, weaknesses and threats about your business; this helps you better understand your business. First, review each strength; from each, create at least one opportunity. Exploit your strengths — play to what you are good at. If you identified that a strength for your business is the technical knowledge of your team, then a potential high-value opportunity may be to host education programs, adding value for your customers that separates you from your competition, or are for a fee, which improves your results.
Continue the process with your weaknesses. For every weakness identified, create an opportunity that will correct the weakness. If you identified that your customers have a difficult time finding products in your store, you may develop an opportunity to create new signage or realign products into a more customer-friendly layout.
Finally, review your threats. A threat may come either from within or from the outside of the organization. New regulations or legislation may be a threat to your product or business. Without the review, you would miss the opportunity to make modifications to your product to continue to sell it. Identify threats and propose opportunities to address each.
This creates a robust list of opportunities. In any economy, a strategic review will indicate your strengths, weaknesses and threats. Constantly update your strategic review then identify the opportunities they inspire. This way you will always be working on meaningful ways to improve the business and create a culture that is opportunity-focused and results-driven.
- Review your SWOT Analysis and create five opportunities from each strength, weakness and threat.
- Have employees provide five opportunities to improve results, improve service, run more efficiently, etc, each week;
- Create an expectation (and company culture) that all employees create opportunities for the company each week.
#5 Own your success; build a plan and work it each day.
Talk is cheap; action drives results. You need a plan; a plan is about action. Review the list of opportunities you assembled; prioritize them with regard to importance and impact. Next, build a plan to implement the high-priority opportunities.
Your plan must clearly define the opportunity, its manager, team, expectations, dates, measurement, impact and how to celebrate when it is achieved. Track all implementation plans. Share progress. Involve everyone in the organization. And as opportunities are completed, move to the next opportunity so the company is constantly exploiting its strengths, correcting its weaknesses and addressing its threats. Not only is the entire organization analyzing and inventing opportunities, but also is constantly improving and remaining relevant in a changing world.
Build these five principles of sustainable business success into your culture and you will innovate and lead instead of imitate and follow. These principles are effective in any economy, turbulent or recessionary, flat or growing. By understanding how to build a powerful, communicating and opportunity-focused team, your organization will have a foundation capable of responding successfully in any economy by its constant and effective focus on, and hunt for, opportunities.
Jay Forte, a former financial executive and corporate educator, now work and life coach, speaker and author, is a nationally ranked Thought Leader and president of Humanetrics. Jay teaches organizations, managements and individuals how to reconnect to their talents and passions to achieve extraordinary personal and professional performance. He is the author of the book, Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition (March 2009), and the online resources “Stand Out and Get Hired” and “The Hunt for Opportunities Success Manual.” Jay is a staff blogger on the Vistage International supported business resource site, Bizmore.com; he writes the Power Performance blog and is an expert on management, human resources, customer service and performance issues. Jay is a member of the American Society of Training and Development, Society of Human Resource Management, the National Speakers Association and the Florida Speakers Association. His power performance tools, blogs and resources can be found at www.LiveFiredUp.com.