- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 22 October 2012 11:17, Updated 24 October 2012 07:20
As I write this column from our farm, I occasionally gaze out my window at a huge towering oak tree. On one limb hangs my kids’ much loved tyre swing and on another limb is our well-worn hammock. Yesterday I met the 90-year-old man who planted the tree when he was in his 20s and building our farmhouse for his new wife. He told me proudly that it had cost him nothing as he had dug the tiny shoot from the side of the road when he saw it once in his travels. When I questioned whether he ever thought it would be this big, he looked at me quizzically and said, “Of course I did, I know how big an oak tree grows!” Fair point.
It prompted me to reflect on the vision people could have for a garden half a century ago. Do we have the patience and vision for our gardens these days or moreover, do we have the patience and vision for our companies these days? It is very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of our businesses but what systems are we putting in place to clarify the vision of what we hope the company could eventually look like. How are we making sure we work on getting closer to that vision?
I have a little strategy that I came up with myself a few years ago that really works for me. Each January holidays when I have some time away from the office, I ask myself, what would I like the business to achieve this year and what three things would I love to see greatly improved by next Christmas to get us closer to our vision? These are things that cannot be fixed in a day, such as profitability of a whole division, culture of the organisation, succession planning issues or getting the right people in the right roles throughout the company. I then write the top three in the most specific, measurable way I can on a Post It note and stick it to the bottom of my computer screen. I look at it every day for the whole year. All throughout the year I am reminded how I need to be focusing on these points and invariably they are all no longer issues a year later.
It is my version of bringing Jim Collins’ wonderful concept to life from the book, Good to Great. I talk to my team about the fact that I see myself as the bus driver. My first job is to get the right people onto the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats.
Then I’m driving us all towards the vision of where we want to go. I have made sure we have enough money to buy the petrol and cover the expenses along the way. My other job is to make sure everyone is aware and excited about the direction we are heading in. I’ll actively watch out for the potholes along the way.
Often our vision can come down to mining the data, doing great research or knowing what numbers you need to hit day to day to make your vision a reality. For some, that might mean picking up one new account each week for the next year. But to get one, you need to pitch to 10, so making sure every day you know you have cold-called two new accounts to reach the 10 a week you need to secure one. My retailer friends know this all too well. For example one tells me, for every person who walks through the door, 35 per cent will buy something and their average spend is $32. Their No. 1 aim is to get more people through the door, as they know the conversion rate once they do.
For me, every Friday I receive emails with the average number of each of our products that went through Coles and Woolworths cash registers for the previous week. I take immense pride in always being able to recite these numbers off the top of my head. One of my proudest successes this year was when we released a new product and after three weeks it was not doing very well at the registers so we reformulated it, renamed it and we were able to increase sales by 30 per cent when the improved version hit the shelves two months later.
Your strategy needs to be flexible to be both proactive and reactive to keep moving you towards your vision.
If we pull ourselves out of our operational mode to work out what we need to focus on and then actively nurture and care for the different aspects of our business that needs the attention each year, there is no reason why our business cannot grow and flourish over time, just as my lovely oak tree has.
I love the old proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now”.
All we have is now.