In Verne Harnish’s recent Fortune Magazine article “Market Myopia: Blame the SWOT!”, he points out that executives need to focus in on longer-term trends in order to make the critical adjustments necessary to long-term success. In my experience, executives and owners do not think enough about longer-term trends, and may not have the tools required to do so in a constructive way. This article will point out a simple four-step process to identify significant long-term trends.
- Develop Good Questions
The best way to start the process of spotting longer-term trends is to develop and focus in on the key questions that will lead to the answers that you seek. Here is a sample list of good questions to consider to identify long-term trends:
- What changes are taking place in technology that might impact my business?
- What governmental changes are occurring or might occur that could change how business is done in our industry?
- What long-term changes are taking place with key materials or supplies that are critical to my business?
- What is happening in my local area that will impact my ability to find and hire the best people for my business?
- How will business be done in 10 years in my industry?
- How have the needs of my core customers changed in recent years, and what changes are likely going to continue into the future?
This is not an exhaustive list of questions, but a representative sample. The key is to decide which questions are critical to your research by narrowing the list of questions down to a manageable few.
- Talk To People
Once you have developed your list of questions, start seeking answers by talking to as many people as you can. As Verne says, “The company that leverages the most minds wins!” Start with your staff. If you’ve done a good job putting together a team of ‘A’ players, they are already thinking about what is going on in the world and how it might impact your business. Learn from them with a survey one or two times a year, or you take one employee out to lunch each week to discuss your long-term trend questions with that employee.
But don’t limit your conversations to just your staff. Ask your peers, your suppliers, your core customers. Are you a member of a peer group of some type? Trade shows and industry gatherings are great learning opportunities. Ask people what they see and what they think, and jot some notes for future reference when they point out some thinking that is new to you.
- Think “Long Term” When Learning
When reading or when attending workshops or educational events, remember your long-term trend questions and look for answers in what you are learning. Keep your ears and eyes open for clues that you need to pay attention to, and keep jotting down ideas that may impact your company. While it’s hard to spend time learning, it’s critical as a business leader that you keep the discipline to be a learner. If what you are reading doesn’t provide insights about the future, take stock in what you are reading and make some changes. There are plenty of great business newspapers, magazines, trade newsletters and books that are worth your time and attention. As a Gazelles coach, my learning is offered at twice a year Gazelles Summits which feature six to eight high quality speakers who have written books on subjects that are aimed at the SMB market. If you are interested in attending, let me know. The next Gazelles Growth Summit is in Las Vegas October 22-23.
- Take Time To Think
The last, and perhaps the most challenging, part of the trend spotting process is taking the time to think about what you have learned. I recommend allocating time during quarterly planning to think about and identify trends that are impacting or will impact the business. I’ll be doing this with all of my clients while we do Q3 planning. This exercise can be done alone at first, reviewing all those notes from your conversations and learning opportunities, and then by comparing notes and ideas with others on your team.
If you take the time to look, ask good questions, commit to learning and talk to enough people, your trend spotting ability will become a competitive weapon that will serve you the rest of your business life.
To partner with Business Improvement LLC to help build a company that will sell for top dollar, visit Business Improvement online or call 1.215.830.1222 to speak directly with Doug Diamond.