Given everything you have to do as a business owner, how do you decide which one thing deserves your attention and brainpower the most? How do you know it’s the lever that will make the most difference in your business’ prospects and in the quality of your life?
One approach that makes sense is the 90 per cent rule, which Greg McKeown recommended in his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Whenever an opportunity crosses your path, rate it on a scale that starts at 0 for “least interesting” and 100 for “most interesting.” If your interest in anything — a networking event, a news story on a friend’s Facebook wall or a potential new hobby — falls below 90 per cent, don’t do it. This tactic, McKeown explains, will help you become the kind of person who “gets only the right things done.”
It’s a classic idea that goes all the way back to Aristotle, who more than 2,300 years ago recommended doing “the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reason.” We know how difficult that sounds, but it can have a tremendous impact on your business.
Ask yourself: “If I choose only one thing to improve and I improved it phenomenally well, what would that one thing have to be, to improve everything else overall?
The answer will depend on where your business is at and what it most needs now, in order to scale and support you in living the life you want. What could your one thing be? Here are 5 possible answers:
1. Creating a collaborative, customer-focused culture at work
“The support of empowered employees” is one of the top two factors that CEOs ranked as being the most instrumental to their success, according to the latest Global C-Suite Study by IBM. Its findings are based on 12,854 interviews with CEOs from 112 countries. The other critical factor is “a new willingness to experiment.”
As your business grows, you will probably need to experiment with cross-functional teams where marketing, design, and manufacturing all work together on a new product or service offering. It’s a way of working that may not come naturally for most employees, so part of your challenge will be to bring all these individuals from diverse backgrounds together and motivate them to do their best, as a team, to deliver the outcomes your customers need.
2 Drawing better insights from data
For many years, Nike enjoyed phenomenal success in making shoes and apparel for sports. Insights from its interactions with customers allowed it to go further.
In the last 13 years, the company has experimented with mobile apps, which at first just served as an activity tracker for customers who wanted to record how diligent they were about their fitness training. These days, customers can use Nike’s apps to reserve and pay for products or claim in-store perks and other loyalty rewards. Driven by insights from data, Nike Digital reported its first billion-dollar quarter this year.
For small business owners, data can reveal new revenue sources, whether from new locations, product improvements or a diversified service offering. It can also give business owners a better understanding of where their industry is headed and what headwinds they need to brace for. At the very least, businesses should be using digital to create more frequent and more meaningful interactions with their customers.
3) Learning new skills or understanding your industry better through executive education
But are CEOs using data enough?
Last January, during the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, KPMG Global Chairman Bill Thomas said he was surprised that nearly 70 per cent of CEOs were using “their own intuition over data-driven insights to make strategic decisions in the past three years.” He advised that while it can be a tough job to attend to transformation, deal with uncertainty over the economy or adjust to new regulations, CEOs needed to “find a better balance between data and intuition.”
“Market-leading CEOs recognise the need to develop, and even reshape, their own skills to take on the new challenges they face.”
In Australia, CEOs identified three areas where they need to improve their own and their workforce’s capabilities to support growth. These areas are: cybersecurity (identified by 66 per cent of respondents), data science (56 per cent), and emerging markets (56 per cent).
4 Taking a good look at your costs
Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk revealed in May 2019 that investors had given Tesla US$2.4 billion in new funding to prove that its business of building electric cars, solar panels, and other renewable energy solutions can be viable. In a company-wide email, he asked employees to “respect the faith investors have shown in Tesla” by supporting a “hard-core” review of all their expenditures.
The company had lost $700 million in the first quarter of 2019, and it was critical that “all expenses of any kind anywhere in the world, including parts, salary, travel expenses, rent, literally every payment that leaves our bank account, must be reviewed.” It was the only way, he said, for the company “to become financially sustainable and succeed in our goal of making the world environmentally sustainable.”
Now, most of us don’t have the kind of resources that this billionaire has at his fingertips, but we can share his drive for prudence and fiscal responsibility.
5. Conducting business more responsibly to benefit communities
This is what makes great leaders and the great businesses they inspire stand out from everyone else.
Here’s how IBM expressed this idea in its latest Global C-Suite Study: “Remaking the enterprise isn’t a matter of timing but of continuity. What’s required, now more than ever, is the fortitude for perpetual reinvention. It’s a matter of seeking and championing change even when the status quo happens to be working quite well.”
The path to greatness doesn’t look the same to different organisations. Some may find it by providing scholarships to teach underprivileged teenagers coding skills. Others may do so by trying to fix a long-standing public health problem like malaria or helping solve a crisis like the massive amounts of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
Whatever the specific challenge may be, it is a great organisation that looks beyond its own performance but also answers to a higher purpose. Meaningful work that makes a difference.
What’s the one thing you need to move that will make everything else in your business better and enable greatness?