Founder and CEO of ERG Enterprises. Nationally recognized thought leader on entrepreneurship, investing and leadership.
Blockbuster. Blackberry. Sears.
The list goes on and on. Once, category leaders, all these companies saw their success decline due to the all-too-familiar adversary that was once the reason for their initial growth: the status quo.
Their examples prove that even the most successful entrepreneurs and organizations are never safe from inertia. Processes turn stale. Products and services become ingrained. Meanwhile, the competition continuously improves.
What can you do you keep your organization from becoming complacent and enable you to continue growing? Here are four time-tested strategies to keep your organization from becoming complacent and enable you to continue riding the wave of growth.
1. Inspire a culture of curiosity and solution-finding.
Ever work for a company where every new idea gets welcomed with: “Why?” If so, you know what it’s like to work in a culture of curiosity. Cultures of curiosity readily invite internal scrutiny to ensure every aspect of their operation makes practical sense and maximizes value creation. They also inspire solutions to problems that would otherwise go unnoticed.
In 1928, Dr. Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin in contaminated Petri dishes. His curiosity led him to study it for weeks before writing a paper that would be instrumental in its eventual use.
Consider some of our other most important innovations. They all stem from a relentless pursuit to learn and find new solutions. That’s why I’ve long focused on nurturing this mindset at my own company, ERG Enterprises. As founder and CEO, I continually question our processes, habits, problems and solutions. I challenge our assumptions. And because I lead by example, our team adopts these behaviors, too.
Developing a culture of curiosity starts at the top. By adopting it yourself, expressly talking about its importance, encouraging others to follow suit and rewarding them when they do, you’ll actively prevent your organization from atrophying.
2. Allow employee voice to transcend organizational hierarchies.
Chances are you’ve worked at a company where your formal title prevented you from critiquing a supervisor. This tends to be the case for most organizations—to their detriment. Alternatively, some companies recognize the value of encouraging employee feedback regardless of organizational hierarchy. Everyone at every level can speak and be heard, as long as their contributions are constructive and valuable.
In my experience, these organizations tend to see higher engagement, better performance and improved retention. And research confirms this. One recent study by IBM found that most of the more than 24,000 employees surveyed wanted the ability to share their voice.
To elevate employee voice, create a safe space for your team to communicate. That means regularly asking for feedback in company-wide meetings. Encourage debate and analysis. And be transparent about organizational developments.
3. Seek customer and partner feedback.
As with your employees, you should also regularly seek feedback from your customers and partners. While this may seem obvious and common, it often doesn’t get the investment of time and effort that it deserves. Voice of the customer data is crucial to building better products and solutions, increasing customer retention and turning customers into ambassadors of your company. By seeking feedback from external stakeholders, you can discover early problems and foster goodwill.
Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.org, offers a great example. Of the company’s 950 employees, 350 work in customer support and field more than 50K tickets each month. The company uses customer feedback to power and improve more than 75 million websites and a third of the internet.
To encourage customer and partner feedback, first develop a system for collecting it. This may mean conducting online surveys or interviews, using social media or monitoring customer reviews. Whatever system you choose, broadcast positive and negative feedback to your team. Pay attention to strengths. Diagnose weaknesses. Discuss what’s broken and why as well as reasons to fix it now, and prioritize action items.
4. Make a habit of “lookbacks.”
If you haven’t participated in a lookback event, the process goes like this: employees meet to discuss what went well and wrong for a specific activity or experience and what they would do differently to improve. Lookbacks create tension by expressly confronting failures. They’re commonly used after conferences, customer projects and other activities requiring significant time and capital. Still, many businesses neglect this activity—either because they don’t realize its benefits or haven’t made it a consistent practice.
At ERG Enterprises, we frequently use “lookbacks” for customer projects and the other events referenced earlier. Yet we also consistently apply them to our processes. We ask:
• Did this process achieve our intended outcome?
• What worked flawlessly?
• What can we improve?
• What should we start and stop doing immediately?
As a result, we’ve programmed our organization to be more accountable, intentional and conservative with our most important and scarce asset: time.
To adopt lookbacks in your business, talk about the importance of it to your team. Then make it a routine by incorporating it into your meetings and 1:1s.
You can stay free of the tyranny of the status quo.
As with many things in life, discomfort is a sign of progress, which is the only way forward. By focusing on these four activities, you can build a reliable system for generating healthy discomfort efficiently and effectively.
Used effectively, these strategies can help increase the engagement of your employees, customers and partners; develop better products and services; and build a more resilient organization.