Keep Your Hand on the Plough! | Extraordinary Business
What happens when business leadership splits their attention in the business or doesn’t focus on changes in the marketplace?
A wise man once said, “Keep your hand on the plough and remain focused so your rows will be straight and your harvest will be plentiful.” In an agricultural society, this made sense; it was something that farmers could relate to:
If they took their hand off the plough, the blade wouldn’t break up the ground so that they could plant their seed; if they took their eyes of the plough, there was a great chance that their rows wouldn’t be straight so that they couldn’t plant as many rows. Straight rows provides the greatest efficiency of space in planting.
In either case, their crop yield – how much product the farmer would get from the crop – would be much lower than it would be had they paid attention to their work.
Sometimes, in business, we tend to take our eyes off of the plough, putting energy into activities that don’t directly impact the fulfillment of purpose, whether that purpose is to “maximize shareholder value” or to “serve the small business communities around the world.” The impact of this could be “watering down” your company’s brand and giving your customers the impression that your company is more of a hodgepodge than a specialist at whatever it is that you do. (For example, a lawn care firm that sells mobile phones on the side.)
Other times, we take our hands off the plough to work on projects that are outside of our work, thinking that we are better off doing two things at once. The impact of this is that you could end up running your company right into the ground because you weren’t focused on making sure that you were avoiding or adjusting problems outside of the business.
If you think about the American automobile industry: what would have happened if they had acted to work on the technologies to build more fuel-efficient vehicles ten or fifteen years ago, when conversations about global warming, natural resource depletion and sustainability became very real? Would Toyota have beaten them to market with the first hybrids? Would the prices of the vehicles be so high? Would the cost of development be so high? Would the public have been more prepared to accept them? I remember as a child, we talked about the future of electric cars. What happened?
Think about it – if you were a baseball player at bat who was focusing on being a showboat for the audience while trying to watch the 70 mile per hour speedball coming from and the pitcher, how well do you suppose all of that would that work out for you? How successful do you think that you would be at hitting the ball? Do you think that you would live up to your potential? Have we seen this happen to athletes?
What kind of message do you think that would send to the audience? Do you think that they would just love you because your were cool, or would they be more likely to lose faith in your abilities, thinking you were arrogant and paid way too much? Do you think they are more interested in your antics or winning games? Would your message to your audiences be clear? I think not!
Building an extraordinary business – or anything extraordinary, truly requires you to have a one track mind. It requires constant attention to what is going on both inside and outside of the business. The landscape – laws, social expectations and habits, technology, the economy, your industry, etc. – is constantly changing. For your business to be successful, it must adjust to take advantage of or avoid those changes, as appropriate. As a business leader or executive with your head up, you can spot changes and make the right strategic decisions, or find those that can help.
One more example:
When the recession of 2008 hit, there were two types of businesses: those that saw that the recession was going to hit; they saw that things were just “too good” but not sustainable and knew that at some point, there was going to be a problem, like the dot-com bubble burst just eight to ten years before. Those businesses took strategic steps to cover themselves and took slow period to buckle down and find ways to improve their businesses.
Other firms were more reactionary. They didn’t watch the climate and the landscape. When they responded, sometimes too late, there was much hoping, praying and gnashing of teeth. They took frantic actions to reduce expenses, trying desperately to get more customers and to gain access to capital. Many, sadly, went out of business.
Which camp would you rather your company be in?
Consider this: recessions happen. Almost regularly. With your hand to the plough and your eyes on your work, you would see this and would plan accordingly. You would be in a position to take advantage of slower periods to evaluate what you do and take steps to do it better so your company can emerge stronger. That’s what extraordinary companies do. Do farmers do this?
You bet. It is called winter.
Rick Meekins, an Operations and Strategy consultant, is the Managing Partner at Aepiphanni , a small business consulting firm dedicated helping business leaders CREATE | DESIGN | BUILD extraordinary businesses.
For eight years, Aepiphanni has been the trusted advisor for business leaders who are seeking forward-thinking solutions to help them plan for and navigate through the challenges of business growth. Our entrepreneurial multidisciplinary team works with clients to develop differentiating solutions and provide direction focused on lasting, strategic results.
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