I hazard a guess that many people reading this article will own a GPS satellite navigation system (“GPS” or “Sat-Nav“) – I know I certainly do. I’ve always been very bad at both navigating and driving at the same time, so when driving in an unfamiliar city, I find a GPS sat-nav absolutely indispensable. Of course, it won’t always navigate to the precise location desired, but it gets very close.
I was recently driving around Birmingham, which is a city I visit only very occasionally, and even with automated directions, I managed to drive right past a turning. My sat-nav (GPS) registered my mistake immediately, and made an announcement that all drivers dread….
“Make a U Turn where possible”
With the help of this announcement I quickly realised my mistake, found a safe place to turn, and then I was quickly back on my way.
As I was doing this, it struck me how in business the word “U-Turn” seems to have a uniquely negative connotation. If leaders of organisations or projects make a “U-Turn” this can be seen as embarrassing; it is painted out as a lack of conviction or lack of leadership. This has an interesting side effect: It can lead to stakeholders stubbornly entrenching themselves into illogical or unsustainable positions, because to be seen to change their view could be a political and organisational nightmare—and this might be seriously career limiting! This pattern happens in organisations of all sizes; whether mid-size, small or multinational.
U-Turns aren’t inherently bad
Of course in business, we don’t have the luxury of an organisational sat-nav or GPS. However, our companies should have a clear vision, mission, objective and strategies. Our projects should have a clear set of desired outcomes. These calibrate us for our journey and set our direction; it’s similar to typing the address into a sat-nav/GPS.
Yet, the business environment around us changes all the time. New competitors enter the market. Regulations change. Customer appetite and demand fluctuates. Strategic business analysis helps us to understand our business environment, assess our opportunities and threats and understand our strengths and weaknesses. All of this information and data should be monitored and analysed regularly to ensure that the direction of travel is still sensible. We can undertake regular organisational ‘sat-nav’ (GPS) checks, asking questions like
- Are we still heading in the right direction (Are we on track to reach our original goal)?
- Is this the right direction (Does the goal need to be revisited/changed – is it still aligned with the business environment)?
- Are there any road-blocks (Are there any new threats or factors in the business environment that might affect our ability to reach the goal)?
Let’s take an example: Perhaps we’re aiming to be first to market on a particular product, and a competitor gets there first. Rather than soldiering on with the project simply because there is so much ‘emotional capital’ invested, this is a time for reflection; is second to market useful and viable? Will it be profitable? If so, that’s great. If not, a U-Turn would be more appropriate. Perhaps we can save the remaining development budget and invest in something different or unique that really will help us gain a competitive advantage.
Rather than fearing U-Turns, organisations, teams and leaders should embrace them and take them when necessary. U-turns are unlikely to be a regular occurrence, but that doesn’t mean that they should be avoided completely. It is far better to make an early U-Turn and head in a successful direction, even if this means short-term pain, rather than stubbornly ignoring the business environment out of a foolhardy sense of pride. Keeping a regular check on the business and project environment by conducting regular strategic business analysis is a crucial enabler for organisational success.
What are your experiences of business environment analysis and/or U-Turns? I’d love to hear your views and insight, so please keep the conversation going add a comment below. And if you like my blog, don’t forget to subscribe!
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions