Make 2012 the Year That You Keep your Promises

Mr. Joe Mechlinski
August 31, 2012 — 908 views  

The best way to maintain a steady business course under constantly changing conditions is to keep your eye on the big picture. But the stream of dramatic headlines over the last three years has made the big picture a little blurry for entrepreneurs like us. “The world is falling!” shriek the pundits. “Wait, the world is going great! No wait… it’s falling again!”

The truth is, the world is somewhere in between, and it’s confusing. Many of us are still wringing our hands, searching for answers to surviving this economic uncertainty. But are we even asking ourselves the right questions? In my mind, the first and most important question to ask is this:

Am I prepared to do what it takes to grow my company in 2012?

Answering that question with complete honesty is the first step toward your best year ever. As you seek to answer in the affirmative, your job is to be proactive, to do your best not to react emotionally, and to provide the strongest leadership you can. With a new resolve to lead your company to new heights in the coming year, I recommend that you ask yourself three more questions:

1. How can I help my company grow regardless of what happens in the economy?

2. How can we set ourselves apart from the competition?

3. How do I reset our culture, employee direction, or even our vision to move forward in a way that supports my first two answers?

Question #1:
How can we grow regardless of the economy?

Now that the worst of the recession has passed, we find ourselves with a greater sense of normalcy. Your best bet, then, is to prepare for the edges of normal – to position yourself and your employees to handle a little good stuff and a little bad stuff. That way you won’t be surprised, but you won’t waste precious resources battling unlikely extremes, either.

In “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t”, author Jim Collins tells the story of James Stockdale, a Navy Vice Admiral who survived eight years of torture and imprisonment in a Vietnam POW camp.

According to Stockdale, there were three types of prisoners. Those who gave up and lost hope were among the first to die. Those who believed rescue was imminent inevitably were disappointed; unable to sustain the emotional ups and downs, they were the second to go. Those who survived never let their emotions get too high or too low. They prepared for the potential reality and accepted they had little control over the outcome.

Prepare for the middle, focusing your best efforts on the priorities you can control.

Question #2:
If I’m going to grow, how do I position my business in a way that is unique and distinct from the competition?

Winston Churchill said it best: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Some of us spend more time plotting against our competitors than looking for ways to give our clients a remarkable experience, which is what it’s going to take for us to stand out in this economy. Plenty of companies have achieved growth in recent years even when they could not afford capital expansions or new hires. Instead, they invested what they had in giving their clients the most remarkable experience they could muster.

I was conducting a training recently, and I asked 300 people how many of them had had a remarkable customer experience in the last 30 days – not an experience in which their expectations were simply met or exceeded, but rather a truly remarkable experience. Only 20 percent of the people in that room could actually remember one.

And here’s the gem: when I asked them who it was that gave them that remarkable experience, it was never big shots like Starbucks, Southwest, or Nordstrom. It was the local dry cleaner who dropped everything to help sew on a button. It was the hardware store clerk who helped a gentleman put together a leaf blower and then walked him out to the car and helped him load it into the trunk. It was the chef who served every course of a meal to a couple celebrating their anniversary.  

What made it remarkable in most instances wasn’t giving something away or offering a major discount. It wasn’t based on a Super Bowl ad or some crazy national marketing campaign. These companies didn’t hire a consultant and pay them millions of dollars to figure this out. It was just people going the extra mile and showing their clients that they care. It was about listening. It was about all of the things that we know we should be doing, but we’re just not doing them often enough.

What’s great about this is that anyone can do it. How could you invest in people without letting the lack of money be a constraint? What initiatives could you participate in with your clients? What knowledge can you share to support your clients? Can you add value to a client by introducing them to someone you know?

Finally, gratitude is a simple – and absolutely free – way to distinguish your company. If you’re not sending out five handwritten thank you notes every week, you’re not saying thank you enough. Don’t do this just to check boxes; do it because there probably are at least five people in your world, at any given time, who deserve your sincere thanks

Question #3:
The last question boils down to this: What is it going to take to get serious this year?

“Serious” means different things to different people. What it means to me is keeping your word no matter what – to yourself, your employees, and your clients. The company that keeps its word does more to distinguish itself from the competition than you ever imagined.

How do you begin? You start by hitting reset. Reset is about becoming vulnerable. It’s about declaring a new set of terms for the path forward; terms that are ideally connected directly to your mission and to the value of keeping your word. Actually, “Keep Our Word” is my company’s number one value. My team and I have agreed on three behaviors in support of that value: 

- Make your commitments realistically.
- Follow through on your promises completely.
- Display integrity and accountability to the extreme.

Keeping your word means holding yourself and others accountable, which is not always easy. Think back to the last time your restaurant dinner arrived cold, or a colleague showed up late to an important meeting. Did you say something, or did you just let it go? While we can’t cry over every drop of spilt milk, holding people accountable means speaking up and having an uncomfortable conversation when necessary – and it all starts with you. How can you hold yourself accountable in 2012 in a way you’ve never done before? What will push you through the tough days and over the hurdles that are sure to appear?

Many clients tell me, “I know what I have to do. I just don’t follow through.” This year, judge yourself not on your intentions, but on your actions. Accountability requires a focus on the facts – not on what you wanted to happen but on what actually did happen. 

For inspiration on keeping your resolve, consider Nelson Mandela. In his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”, he described receiving repeated offers of freedom during his 27-year imprisonment if he would only renounce his anti-apartheid position. Mandela said “no” every single time.

If he can have that kind of tenacity, so can you.

The day you make your word the bond of your business is the day you start growing, regardless of the economy. So make this the year you truly keep your word to yourself, your employees, and your customers. Ask the right questions, and when you find the right answers, commit to them with everything you’ve got.

Mr. Joe Mechlinski

entreQuest, Inc.

Joe is the award-winning co-founder and CEO of entreQuest, Inc., a Baltimore consulting firm that has helped hundreds of companies prosper through some of the worst economic times in American history.