The future can be daunting and Jody Knouse Poland thinks she knows why. It’s a fear of the unknown.
“Most leaders, to some degree, have it, and what it revolves around is not being in control,” says Poland, co-founder, chief operating officer and executive client champion at The Renaissance Group.
As stressful as the day-to-day grind can get sometimes, it can often provide a quick payback for your efforts.
“It’s what we know how to do,” Poland says. “It can be draining to put out fires and fix problems all day, but leaders also get a sense of accomplishment from it. It’s that immediate gratification.”
The key to dealing with the future in a positive way is learning to approach it with the same mentality of developing a plan and adapting it to changes that you would anything else. This approach is one of the reasons Poland’s 19-employee business consultancy firm reached $9.7 million in 2008 revenue.
Smart Business spoke with Poland about how to make the future less scary for your business.
Get over your fear. Thinking about the future doesn’t really feel like work to a lot of us. But because it doesn’t feel like work, what we see with our clients is they keep it in their heads, and they don’t put it down on paper until something happens and they have to deal with it. It’s overcoming that fear that is the first step to moving forward.
Clarity is the answer to a lot of the anxiety that comes with dealing with the unknown. Like anything else, when you focus on something and you do it repeatedly, it becomes a habit, and you’re going to get better at it. As leaders, we think we always have to have the answers. It’s more important to have the right questions.
For us, it was getting clear on where are we going next, creating a communication plan with our team and executing our strategy. At times, we really struggled with it. Sometimes we felt like we were taking two steps forward and one step back, and we would change our mind about direction.
We missed some key internal deadlines in development of our new content. But we found by creating a plan and staying in the habit of doing the strategic work we needed to do, we were able to overcome our fear and move forward with it and build our own brand.
Budget your future. I look at a plan for work and how I’m going to spend my time or how I want my people to spend their time as being no different than a budget. You know what you have. You know what you have to spend it on, and you know what you’d like to spend it on. The key is maintaining that level of focus and clarity and constantly asking myself, ‘Is what we’re doing in line with where we said we were going?’ and asking my team that on a daily basis.
We choose to leverage the power of our time together and be intentional about it. We have a complete company meeting system with everything from a daily meeting to a weekly strategic meeting to a monthly strategy meeting and then quarterly progress checks that tie back to the plan.
It’s those things that help us stay on plan by setting the milestones and having those periodic reviews built in. It almost guarantees you’re going to stay on track.
Find your passion. We have a one-page written vision of what our business will look like five years from now. And it’s that vision that we use to create our strategic plan.
That serves as our road map, and we believe in sharing that. There are a lot of leaders who don’t want to share the numbers. Our philosophy is that our people can’t be fully engaged in the outcome if they don’t have the information and they don’t know why it’s important. We don’t just want them to know what to do. We want them to understand why they are doing it. We also want them to come to us if there is a better way.
What we see is a lot of business owners and leaders aren’t clear about the distinction between vision and mission. The easy way to remember it is vision is your eyes. It’s what you see. Where are you going?
Your mission is your purpose. Why did you start your business? What was that feeling, that picture you had in your head of what you wanted to accomplish? That’s kind of the starting point to building your vision. When you get a year or a couple years into it, and you have some business owners working 16 hours a day and seven days a week, they’ve lost that passion. They’ve completely forgotten about what it felt like when they first started the business. So you have to bring them back to that.
Most of the time, it was that people saw a frustration or a problem that they could solve for someone else. Maybe it was an individual or a consumer or a business. Build on that feeling and vision you had when you first started the business. It probably hasn’t changed; it’s gotten buried. But the essence of it is still within you.
Change your vision, not your values. Our philosophy is that your company values are not going to change a lot unless there is a major shift or a major event. The values are an essence of who you are. Your vision is the reason we have those quarterly meetings and annual meetings.
It’s an opportunity to not just evaluate our progress from the previous year, but also look and say, ‘OK, what has changed? What didn’t we know when we first defined this? And as a result of what we didn’t know, what changes might we have to make?’ Your vision isn’t something that would be set in stone. It needs to be fluid enough that you can adapt to changes in the market, your industry and with your clients and with technology.
How to reach: The Renaissance Group, (813) 636-9181 or www.renaissanceconsultants.com