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Stuck in a Business Rut?

stuck in a rut

I had a thing for dirt bikes when I was younger.  You learn to look for ruts in the trail.  A well-placed road rut can separate you from the seat of a motorcycle.  And once you are in a road rut, exiting can be treacherous.  Someone reading this is now stuck in a business rut, and you are afraid to get out of it.  Your business is on the merry-go-round of mediocrity, and you can't seem to turn the page or start a new chapter.  It is the same tired people, doing the same average things and accomplishing the same average results.  It is no longer fun, and you are mailing it in as a leader.  You have no excitement, enthusiasm, or energy.  You are stuck!

I lead a peer group of business owners and CEOs locally.  We meet once a month to work on our business as opposed to working in our company.  It is a monthly, one-day escape from the monotony and routine to examine our business approach.  The conversations are frank, honest, and powerful.  We love enough to confront each other and call BS when excuses or blame is on the table.  Each year, I select a theme for the group.  In 2020, our focus was 10X.  We challenged each other to step up for what is essential in our lives.  For 2021, our theme is Always Day One for our businesses. 

Day one is the rise of your business.  It is about growth, change, and opportunity.  Day one is about innovation and aspiration.  Day one is about becoming when we grow up.  Day two is the rut.  It is the routine of becoming settled and constipated as a business.  Nothing is moving.  Death follows day two.  We have witnessed excellent companies die from constipation on day two.  Toys-R-Us and Sears come to mind.

You are in a business rut, and you are afraid to get out.  The infection of mediocrity has set in.  You are comfortable the way you are and have the illusion of safety.  You are on day two.  You are not safe; your business is dying a slow death in front of your eyes.  There is a terminal infection of mediocrity growing day-by-day.  Tragically, you know it.  Yet, the intoxication of comfort is potent.  You are not lazy; you have become tired and afraid.  You are tired of fighting for excellence.  You are scared to try something different.  Each day you go round and round.  It is like the movie Groundhog Day.  Each day is a carbon copy of the previous day.  Stop and listen to these words by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon!

"The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won't or can't embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you're probably fighting the future. Embrace them, and you have a tailwind"—Jeff Bezos

Your market and customers are continually changing.  Jeff explains that as a company grows, it becomes easy to rely on the process rather than the result. In that case, the process becomes "the thing." When that happens, businesses stop looking at outcomes and only consider whether they have followed the process correctly, not whether the desired result was achieved.  Jeff says, "Day Two" companies make the right decisions, but the problem is that they make them too slowly. Start-ups (Day One) have no problem making high-quality, high-velocity decisions, but large organizations struggle with doing the same. "The senior team at Amazon is determined to keep decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business— plus a high-velocity decision-making environment is more fun too."

Let's talk about the "F" word.  Day two companies are about work.  It is a job.  Day one companies are exciting (and fun) because they are always experimenting with something new.  They chase the shiny objects you have heard were so bad.  They disrupt the status quo.  Did you know that the people are stationary and robotic shelves move to people in an Amazon fulfillment center?  You cannot make this &*%! up.  It is real.

I used to coach leaders that you are dying if you have been doing things the same way for 5 years or longer.  Covid19 and the pandemic have accelerated change velocity in business, and you must keep up or slip comfortably into day two.  Bezos says, "Day two is stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by an excruciating, painful decline, followed by death. And that is why it is always day one at Amazon."

Before Covid19, this decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest day two for decades, but the final result would still come.  I challenge you to see 2020 as a blessing for your business.  The stasis (rut) you are in is escapable.  How?  Start by experimenting patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates conditions where all the magic can happen.

I resisted the temptation to order food via apps (applications) on my phone.  I thought it was a hassle to download the app and enter my credit card information when I could make a call.  Oh, I was wrong.  In the time it would have taken to make a call, wait on hold, talk to a person, and confirm my pizza order, I can now press three buttons on the app and watch my pizza process begin.   This customer is delighted.

Yes, it is your fault.  It is always your fault as the chief-decision-maker.  Own it!  Now that you have owned it, you can move forward.  I suggest you take ownership of the situation publically with your business.  Admit to your team that you are in a rut.  You will feel cleansed and free from the burden of mediocrity.  Your fever will break, and you will know you are getting better.  I know it is scary.  You are afraid to take chances that may not work.  You are scared to spend money on experimentation.  You are afraid to dehire, hire, promote, or reassign people.  You are afraid to spend money on an app in a business that has never used one before.  You feel paralyzed by the fear of what if happens.

Look, we are about to give birth to a new year.  In football language, you are about to get a fresh set of downs.  Throw out the 2020 playbook.  There are twelve months in 2021.  Commit to twelve failures in 2021, one each month.  Be willing to fail with a dozen significant initiatives.  Create an app for your customers.  Hire a new sales manager.  Change marketing strategies.  Join a peer group.  Develop a new product.  I will make you a promise.  Six of the twelve initiatives may not stick in your company or work out.  Three will likely change your business somewhat.  One to three will push your company into a day one mindset. 

Listen to these words from Bezos.   First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you're wrong?  Second, make decisions with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you're probably too slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you're good at course updating, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow will be expensive for sure. Third, use the phrase "disagree and commit." This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have a conviction on a particular direction even though there's no consensus, it's helpful to say, "Look, I know we disagree on this, but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?" By the time you're at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you'll probably get a quick yes.

Take the last days of 2020 to identify your "dirty dozen" scary, potential failures for 2021 and write them on a whiteboard.  Remind yourself that fear is an indicator of the direction you should go.  Get your team together and prioritize the order of attack.  I suggest attacking the ones you fear most first.  Get them out of the way early, or you will have more time in 2021 to make adjustments.  Fail fast and fail often.  You will have more fun with your new day one business!