“Companies are living organisms, if they do not evolve, they die”. I can vividly remember my father telling me this during one of our frequent chats on business in my early twenties. It is an established fact and yet from start-ups to global corporations, from departments to regional offices, we constantly see organisations fail to do evolve and become irrelevant. Nokia would be a very current example, with RIM, the makers of Blackberry heading the same way.
I am not going to continue this posting detailing an approach a corporation should adopt to drive an innovative culture, or attempt to prescribe a methodology that will assist in evolution. Instead, I am going to tell you how in my little world I can ensure that in the areas we operate in, we continue to be develop and compete effectively.
With the exception of a few companies that make a living from strategy consulting, there are very few enterprises or executives that regularly get beyond the day to day tactical requirements of their business. Indeed, most would suggest that in itself is enough and they will deal with the future when it happens. I understand that, but if no time is given to looking at the direction you are going or how to improve your position and efficiency, you are failing to evolve and any competitive advantage will be eroded over time.
Another favourite phrase of my father has always been “keep business simple” and that is exactly how I approach ensuring we evolve as a business. My main tool for this is “Idea Day” which to be totally honest is inaccurate, as in reality it is nearly always “Idea Morning”. It takes place once a month so a six day commitment per year. I can remember when this was a day every two weeks but whilst it is still imperative I think I am more efficient at it now.
Idea Day has no agenda, no particular structure and no planned outcome. It starts with ensuring that I am in an environment where I will not be disturbed, receive any calls or have interruptions of any kind. An open web browser, my Evernote account open and a clear head. I will then spend the next hour reading websites such as Business Insider, Harvard Business Review, Mckinsey Quarterly (though I do enjoy having a contrary view to anything pushed out by this organisation if possible), Mashable and Bloomberg’s Businessweek. This is not just to trawl for ideas, I find that the multitude of content activates me and I generally find myself taken down a direction of thinking from that point. Maybe it will be someone’s innovative use of technology or organisational structure. It could be a new method of communicating with customers or employee incentivisation. Sometimes I find the hook within 10 mins and move the broad concept along, applying it to our businesses and understanding its relevance and application. Other times the stimulus will drive me to consider our current direction on a sector or approach in relation to the market commentary or opinion I have been reading.
I find this approach productive because I rarely find anyone to be able to work with the alternative. Consider telling yourself that today is Idea Day and then locking yourself away with your pad and paper to get started. It takes time to get fired up and you don’t always know where to start. Using external stimulus is a good catalyst and it gives the variation to the path you can take, which makes it that a little more interesting.
Another approach I like to take is my oft repeated mantra that “if you keep on doing what you are doing,then you will keep on getting what you are getting”. There can be no holy grails in business, be they products, people or processess. Organisations, like physical structures, are only as strong as their weakest point, so a constant drive to look for improvement (call it evolution) is required.
I am sure most can draw parallels with a business function, department or process when I give my specific example. The terms of reference would be the repeating nature, a competitive environment and customer satisfaction/sales.
Vanda’s White Collar Boxing has been going for 5 years now and in that time we have enjoyed great success. Over 14,000 people have attended the 21 events and $1m+ USD has been raised for children’s charities. We have had plenty of impersonators and opportunists invade the space, yet we continue to sell-out, attract hundreds of applications to participate and receive countless testimonials as you can see on the Vanda Promotions website.
In all of my career, I have found establishing, evolving and executing on this property the most satisfying. I believe my team shares that enthusiasm and our success has been due to our willingness to drive improvements. I could write a paper on the evolution of this property but our overall approach is very simple.
Before we commence the run-up to every event we review the previous event. Sound obvious? How many times do you see the same mistakes repeated in your business? We look at what went right and what went wrong. We then look at the core operations for efficiency and effectiveness and understand whether this can be improved. A few of the questions we would ask ourselves;
Did we select the right 20 boxers from the 120+ applicants. If not, what did we learn?
Did we have any adverse challenges during the training stage e.g a unusually high drop out rate? What were the reasons and how can we improve?
Which suppliers performed below expectations? What are the alternatives?
Have the post event interactions with guests been full of praise for the event?
We would then consider the detailed feedback we had garnered from our guests and sponsors. We have never failed to produce a guest survey and we are blessed to have clients more than happy to share their experiences, good or bad.
We will then dive into the P&L and look at what came in above cost to the plan and why. We will question the value of the larger expense items and discuss the possibilities for alternatives that drive better value or better returns.
Finally, we will always ask ourselves what can we do differently this event that will
-Delight the audience and drive “wow” factor
-Improve efficiency and increase value from the costs.
In 21 events, we have NEVER done exactly same event format twice. Yes it may have been a phenomenally successful event but that was “that night”. Every event we modify, improve and develop. Whether it be the weigh in event venues, the cocktail reception formats and presentation, the boxer videos or the items in the charity auction. Every little piece of the puzzle is reviewed and improved if possible.
When my father was over in December, he admitted that he had seen little potential in the White Collar Boxing when I had initially explained the idea. He has always been supportive but from that date in 2007, he had expected the “fad” to pass. Since 2007, we have sold out 21 events, on a premium price platform, during the most challenging economic environment in the last 100 years. We have a waiting list of sponsors and participants and an eager client base snapping up every ticket at each event. The secret to the success? We treat the property like a living organism, we evolve, adapt and improve so that it is as relevant now as it was five years ago. Little did my father know back in 2007 that it was his sage advice that would help demonstrate his fears were unfounded.
Your business, your department, your responsibility is no different, give it a try.