February 2013

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff

How To Avoid Becoming Irrelevant

In business, becoming irrelevant means your company is indistinguishable from the bulk of your competition.

It means your service or product is easily replaceable. It means you are competing on price rather than value, expertise, innovation or exclusivity.

I don't know about you, but anything remotely connecting my company, my work or life to the term "irrelevant" sends shivers up and down my spine.

I'd rather throw in the towel than go to work every day knowing what I do doesn't make a difference.

All leaders must fear irrelevance. It's the difference between leading a company to achieve the extraordinary and leading it to mediocrity. As a leader, your job is to achieve the extraordinary. Yet, if you wander around your company, you'll see signs of thinking and behavior that feeds mediocrity. It could be something as simple as an employee who comes to work with an "I don't care" attitude. I don't care to sign paychecks for employees that don't care.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to avoid becoming irrelevant:

Kick your own butt: That's right, you need to kick your own butt. Leading people and growing a company is relentlessly hard work. If you keep talking about getting to that "next level" but never gain any ground, than you're not leading with the intensity that next level requires.

Got that? As a cyclist, if I want to improve my average speed (my next level), I need to peddle with greater intensity and power. That's why I signed up for week-long professional spring training camp next March in the mountains of North Carolina. My butt is going to get kicked for sure.

Today matters: Another day of average is another day of compromise. A company becomes irrelevant one day at a time -- one missed opportunity at a time. Today is Monday. What are you going to do today that will lead to extraordinary? And what about the rest of the week?

What about the fresh new year of 2013. If 2012 had smatterings of irrelevancy, what are you going to do today to prevent that from spilling over into 2013? Today matters more than ever. Tick tock, tick tock...make it count.

Fear feeds irrelevant thinking and behavior: Fear that change will rock the boat too much and key employees may leave. Key employees are those that believe in the vision of the company, and you as a leader, will support change initiatives.

An employee that generates high sales, or has certain expertise, that resists change and is ego-driven, not team-driven, IS NOT a key employee. I'm not suggesting that you fire seemingly key employees; I'm suggesting you do what's best for the company without fear getting in your way.

Accountability rocks: Successful change initiatives are built on a foundation of accountability to achieving the desired outcome. Accountability begins with you, the leader.

Too many leaders think the key to accountability is having the right consequences. Put your energy and focus into clarifying expectations, building the right systems, training how to use those systems and coaching them to succeed. Achieving extraordinary is the result of people working hard for things they want to achieve -- not from doing good enough to avoid the consequences.

Ban mediocrity: Indifference feeds mediocrity. Indifference is that toxic "I don't care" thinking and behavior that exists to some degree in all companies. If you want to ban mediocrity, you need to give your team something to strive and fight for, something that grabs their imagination and awakens their spirit.

Chances are, some people just got bored with the same old routine. Others stopped believing because you may have stopped believing. Perhaps it's time to put action and energy behind what you believe your company is capable of achieving.

Take some risks: Not every idea is going to be a winner, but the more ideas you throw out there, the better your chances of finding some winners. Seth Godin says, "Ship something out the door every day." He also says, "What's the worst that could happen?"

Success is a numbers game. It rises from repeated failures until the right outcome occurs. Celebrate it. Bask in the warm glow of success while it lasts. Keep taking risks to find that next winner. It's what leaders do.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the salon and spa industry. His is author of Fast Forward, No-Compromise Leadership and Wake Up! For signed copies, go to www.strategies.com. You can email Neil at neil@strategies.com.