You don’t know what you don’t know. Otherwise called a blind spot.
Success and profitability can create blind spots leaving your company vulnerable to avoidable stress, potential crises, or missed important opportunities. This happens because we work hard and stay laser-focused in the building and growing phase. But, we neglect to come up for air to take a thirty thousand high-level view of our business.
That’s when important things are missed.
Experience can teach a leader to be aware of common challenges: who to hire, profit and loss statements, product development, and other areas of focus. However, while looking at traditional challenges, other unforeseen issues can be hiding a blind spot.
The tough thing about blind spots is you usually don’t know you have one until you crash into something or until something crashes into you. We simply don’t know what we do not know! Then the uncomfortable work of damage control, clean-up, and hind-sight learning begin pronto. If only you saw it coming!
Every business will face the following unique challenges, which most often live in the blind spot of our work. In this article, we will look at five things you will always face in your business. Our hope is that you stay aware of these so that your great work at building doesn’t spark an unwanted, and unnecessary fire later.
A story to get us started:
An already successful business is growing quickly through acquisition. Their war chest is fat, competition is lean and the market is ripe with opportunity. In the past 2 years, the company has acquired three businesses in the same line as their own. Their EBITDA increased substantially as they collapsed overhead operations, tied Branch Leads to proprietary incentive methods leadership knew worked, and intentionally incorporated robust and generous recognition programs. But there was one problem. The leaders did not foresee the issues that would arise from the lack of communication between corporate and the branches.
Growing gaps in warehouse logistics, break down in business processes – even things as simple as when to give raises to employees or taking time off- and navigating the increased complexities of multiple customer order systems, etc. threatened the leader personally and the business professionally. It was time to stop and assess. The recommendation on the table in the near term to triage is to bring in a corporate liaison who can ensure alignment, clarity, and early spotting of potential hot-spots of issues (product availability, employee morale, business policy mishandling, etc.).
If the Owner was clear on the following five blind spots, he would be better equipped to navigate and prepare rather than be surprised and react when the problem happens.
Five areas of business leadership often in the blind spot.
1. Your Story
How, when, and why are you telling your company story? Your story has impact, influence, and relevance. Your corporate story tells not only who you are but who you are becoming. It points to where you are going and to where you have been. Your story serves as an anchor. For your veteran team members, it reminds them of why they are with you and why they will continue to do the important work in the future. For your new team members, Millennials and Gen Zs, in particular, your story tells them what matters most to you.
In this new landscape of work, people young and mature are working for money and for meaning. You can communicate both by keeping your story, the mission, and the powerful impact you want to have front and center. What are you doing with your story? Might it be obscured in your blind spot when it may serve you better by being front and center?
The aggressive acquisition plans of the client already discussed lead to 3x growth. What an important time to return to the story, to remember why the company exists, and to integrate new employees into that story. Where do they fit in? How are they contributing to the writing of and the telling of that story? From my experience, this is the most important of potential blind spots to address early, and often.
Transitions are inevitable and can feel unstable as they are taking place. The blind spot in transitions can be taking it personally.
I know a company that is losing many of its top leaders. Even though they are leaving for various reasons, it’s hard not to grasp for validation to prove that you are still okay. Yet, in spite of the mass exodus, this leader is able to keep his head on straight about the situation, even though his heart might be breaking. I often tell clients, the first one who makes something personal loses – every time. As a leader, you want to be careful you do not measure your personal value or worth by the actions of others. It could have devastating effects on your relationship with those “left behind.”
I also work with a leader who is so talented at leading and building capacity in those around her that she often loses people, not because they don’t enjoy working with her because they do! She does a powerful job at impacting, inspiring, and equipping her team that she brings out the best in them and shows them what’s possible. The result? They want to go to their next level in leadership and in life.
Transitions happen, people make choices and most of the time, if you have a healthy environment, you’ve inspired them. This is a different story if you maintain a toxic workspace. With toxicity, there is a more pervasive problem that needs to be addressed. In any case, the leader can’t avoid transitions; but then can avoid taking things personally which will inevitably leak into other critical relationships as well. Success in these potential blind spot areas comes with anticipating transitions, navigating them, and removing any mindset that might cloud your thinking about them. Transitions are a normal part of business and life.
3. Strategic Realignment
What worked for your business yesterday, may no longer support your business tomorrow. Lift your head long enough to look around and see what’s happening in your business. Routine spot checks yield an enormous reward when done with intention and purpose. Make the time to look at your processes, procedures, and systems, including how you market, who you market to and so much more! The alignment review does not have to be complicated or random. With a bit of advanced planning, it will become something you enjoy and may result in pay-dirt.
One particular client recognized, for example, that his sales team was spending 80% of their time processing calls from people who, they had already learned from past performance, were not going to buy. He tweaked his online prequel process and the conversion rate went up by some ridiculous multiple – in just one month! Another client brought me in to help him figure out if he needed to hire more people as his team was complaining about workload and he just didn’t believe the added payroll liability was necessary. Within just a few short months we discovered a mother lode. It turned out that approximately 40% of his client base was producing less than 5% of their revenue but requiring 80% of the team’s time. Both clients had the courage to stop and think, permitting space for strategic realignment, resulting in a substantial payout.
Want to give this a try?
Use a planning format when doing your alignment check. Perhaps a process that asks three questions: What’s happening? Is this what we want to be happening? And what are the implications if we continue to allow this to happen? Record your responses in something like a Google form or whatever record-keeping system you use. Chart out next steps that may look like this: What to do now, what to do on a designated date, what to stop doing, what to adjust? Our team uses a simple “Start, Stop, Keep, Change” chart by listing various things under each category for immediate action as well as noticing patterns and trends. This strategic realignment can be your secret weapon to fend off mishaps and unintentional drift. The key is to plan time for review in your calendar and to do it regularly. A fabulous book to prompt thought in this area is Essentialism by Greg McKeown where he teaches “less but better.”
Culture can be defined as the way of life for a group or for a society. Every person on your team comes from a different culture. Even if they were born in the same city, how they experienced culture is unique to them. When they come together, those cultures blend into a new culture. It can be a beautiful mosaic of intricate tiles laying together or perhaps another analogy might be a kaleidoscopic. With the addition of each new person, or change in environment (say, COVID, for example), the culture bursts with new colors, shapes, and apparent texture. It’s quite something to watch and behold it’s unfolding.
But there’s a catch.
A culture that “just happens” often does not align with the values or the direction of the business. Your job as leader is to create an environment from which culture in your company can organically be fostered in a manner that supports company objectives. Yes, part of that comes from your personal example, another part will come through clearly define values, but it goes deeper and is more complex than that. Why?
Because culture development is generated by the collective, not by a single person.
Your challenge as a business owner and leader is to create an environment where mutual culture is realized. When people remain in their culture silo, the risk of conflict and misunderstanding stays high. When people who are together in a company are invited to create a culture based on their mutual values, mission, vision, and destination the culture has a chance to thrive. It is no longer about the “me” it is about the “us”. What type of culture do you want to foster? Those closest to you may have assimilated to your personal preference for culture, but what happens when you emerge from the E-Team conference room or the board room? Do you suddenly feel like you are in a different world? Perhaps feeling a bit like a stranger in your own organization? That’s one of many possible early signs that a culture blind spot might be creating a growing functional and/or relational gap between groups within your business.
5. Separation-When to Let someone Go
Not too long ago, a client of a small construction business was facing a tough decision. The business needs had outgrown the abilities of a key employee with a long-term relationship with the owner. For the past couple of years, the owner had kept the employee on simply because the alternative felt cruel and disloyal. In her gut, the owner knew a restructuring and higher-level person needed to be in that slot. After just one coaching discussion with lots of role-plays, she generated the courage, and the grace, to have the conversation. A twist on the plot discovered during the meeting was that the employee had been feeling the squeeze and was also “kind of” ready for the exit. She never said anything because she didn’t want to disappoint the owner. Both parties felt relief after the conversation.
Perhaps the hardest part about having the conversation of letting someone go is not understanding how to put it into words and how not to make it personal. If this is your challenge, there is help.
Judith Glaser in her book, Conversational Intelligence How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, states:
“Conversations have the power to move us from “power-over” others to “power-with” others, giving us the exquisite ability to get on the same page with our fellow humans and experience the same reality bridging the gaps between “how you see things and how I see things.”
For some, it is not easy to let someone go, even when it’s the right thing to do. Sharpening your communication skills can help. What is the cost of delaying a much-needed separation when your “knower” is partially obscured by a latent blind spot?
In summary, there is no way to anticipate every blind spot. However, there are ways to train yourself to slow down, take a closer look at key areas of your business so you can address what might be hiding in plain sight. The five areas discussed above can serve as a great starting point for reducing the “gotcha” effect that happens when we run too hard, too fast without time for assessing. You can’t navigate what you don’t see or won’t look at. Intentional time to assess will increase your agility for navigating challenging circumstances even as you continue doing profitable work.
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