T21 group chief exec, Paul Laville, shares his thoughts on apathy in business. So have a read, if you can be bothered…
It’s easy for those of us – consultants, advisors, trainers, mentors etc – to stand up in the midst of a turbulent storm of socio-economic uncertainty and proclaim that we have Seen The Light. It’s easy for us to say to businesses: “This is what you need to be doing. This is what you should be marketing and these are the sectors in which you should be investing if you want to stay in business”.
However, it’s also easy for others to tell us to keep our apocalyptic preaching to ourselves. Even easier to batten down the hatches and ignore us. After all, what do we know?
Well, we’re all businesses, and the challenges we face are the same. Speaking for T21, the questions that keep me awake are… How do we attract and retain customers in difficult conditions? How do we add value to our customers? How do we improve our services, continue to innovate, remain competitive and relevant? Where do we invest to grow our capital and sustain the business into the future?
Answering these questions when larger political and economic influences appear out of control is tough, especially when fierce winds of societal and technological change seem to be altering the way our customers think and behave. I’ve talked to a lot of business owners in the last twelve months – mostly in retail – who think it’s easier to sit it out and wait until ‘things settle down’ and the market returns to how it used to be.
In other words: do nothing.
The problem with ‘doing nothing’ is that it’s destructive to business. If you do nothing to move your business into a place where it can take advantage of market influences, no matter how chaotic they may seem, it’ll go nowhere. You and your employees will become frustrated and disenfranchised, and suspicious of those who seem to be weathering the storm more successfully.
This is the definition of apathy, and when apathy sets in you lose your ability to attract customers. Old or new, they go somewhere else. So too do your employees and before you know it you’re taking steps to wind the business down.
Is that too harsh? I don’t think so. Apathy in business is a killer. We’ve seen Maplins disappear because they would not change their business model, they refused to adapt to changes in the market, to meet new customer behaviours and expectations. We know first-hand that although they wanted to invest in staff skills training, they didn’t want to pay for it, or commit to anything worthwhile. Toys R Us went the same way within a week and there are plenty of others out there who waste time sniping about their competitors, bemoaning their lack customers, blaming everyone else but themselves. These people are standing with their backs to a precipice, blatantly ignoring the drop that awaits them if they don’t move forward.
If you recognise that apathy exists, you can take positive steps to break the cycle of denial and frustration. If you find yourself procrastinating, filling your days with short-term projects and operational tasks that forcibly suppress the noise of the storm raging through the market, then stop. Delegate those things to someone else and step outside, face the storm and look into the heart of it. Listen to the weather reports and the forecasters, the business experts who can help you because it’s their jobs to – it’s what they do.
If you see a township of broken businesses around you, then look at what destroyed them, don’t repeat their mistakes. Travel further out and look for other businesses that are forging ahead, attracting followers who have invested in their vision. Look at where they’re heading and why. Is it within your ability to tread the same path? Or is there a brighter goal they haven’t yet seen, one better suited to the strengths and competitive advantages of your business?
If you can see it, then go for it. Plan your journey. Allocate capital and time and change whatever structures and attitudes you need to start your business moving forward again.
Is it risky? Of course it is, but then look at how you can minimise the risks. Seek advice instead of ignoring it and move towards a position that aims to maximise the gains from your new venture.
If you’re still unsure, then think back to the reasons why you first started in business. Think how great the risk was then and how you overcame it.
Think of the first steps you took, the investments you made to ensure that your business became something meaningful – not just to you, but also to your customers and your employees, all of whom bought into your vision.
Then look at this moment as a turning point, as an opportunity to recapture all that excitement, drive and ambition. At the very least, if you don’t believe or trust your consultants and advisors, weigh up the risk of doing nothing.