I was watching a basketball game between a bunch of 8-year-olds the other day. The “red” team was winning 18-0, an insurmountable lead at that age. The “blue” team was exhausted and disheartened from the pummeling.
But within a heartbeat, blue’s luck changed. A speedy player intercepted a pass and steamed down the court, for a wide open lay-up.
The crowd held its breath as the young player effortlessly flipped the ball up and into the hoop. Of the wrong basket.
The crowd gasped. Tears welled up in the stunned player’s eyes as he realized his team’s humiliation was complete. He had scored a basket for the other team.
This sad little episode seems an apt analogy for one of the costliest mistakes you can make in a business: Having brilliant execution against the wrong goal.
When I first started out in business, my company actually required us to create five-year plans. That seemed like a difficult exercise back then and today that is simply impossible. And yet, it is easy to get locked into annual goals and work beautifully against them, never realizing they’re already out of date.
Business today is not like a basketball player trying to shoot at the right goal. It’s like a basketball player shooting at a goal that is moving.
I think this problem is especially acute for small companies and start-ups. I once had an entrepreneur tell me that the nature of his company changed every three months. It’s true. Simply adding a new employee or a new customer can radically alter the direction of the company. The nature of my work has changed dramatically in the past 12 months.
If you are still heads-down, working like crazy without taking the time to assess the world around you, you might be making a deadly business mistake. Here are five questions to reflect on:
- How am I spending my time today compared to a year ago? If there is a dramatic change, why? Is this a sign that the market is changing or have I lost focus on what makes me profitable?
- What is the biggest internal threat to my business? Is it resources? Keeping up with change? A lack of focus? Turnover?
- What is the biggest external threat to my business? New competitors? New expectations? Problems with the economy?
- How have my competitors changed? Do I even know who my competitors are right now?
- What are my customer’s under-served or un-met wants and needs? Do I think I know, or have I really asked them?
Spending just a little time reflecting on these questions could save you months of heartache down the road. What do you think? How are you coping with the constantly moving target of your business?
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.