Stop, start, continue.

Okay, but what are you going to do that’s different?

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

After taking a real beating these past two years, many leaders are now recognizing that things have changed. They aren’t just mouthing platitudes but actually believe that change has come and that we will not be going back to business as usual. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it is only the beginning. The real question is, “so what will you do in 2010 that is different than what you’ve done before?”

I’m somewhat amazed at how the usually very execution-oriented executives often admit, “okay, you’re right, things have changed,” and then have no plan on what they will do differently. When pressed they stumble around saying things like, “Well, I’m going to get the sales team motivated, we need more revenue.” Or, “We’re just going to get out to see more customers.” Or, “We’re working on three new versions of our product.” More of the same.

As the old saying goes, “If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you will NOT get the same results.” It’s simple and I know they actually do get it – things really, I mean REALLY, have changed. So we definitely can’t expect the same results in the market if we do the same things in marketing.

I’m struggling with this myself, and I know I get it. I need to find ways to get my message out to more people just like you do. I know that many (most?) people are committed to not spending any cash. So what’s the holdup? Well, it’s all new. By that I mean that not only is the economy “new” in a negative way, technology is quickly changing the way we communicate, the way we market, the style that people want, the products and services people want. And if I’m “carefrontational” with myself, I will admit that with all this “newness,” I am not at all certain WHAT to do that will work. The government is thrashing around changing the game rules. The banks are no help. All that I knew was “true” is no longer “true.” That’s pretty stressful for me since I’m usually decisive and confident in what I want to do and how to do it. When one is under stress the usual response is to revert to old habits, comfortable solutions or same old sales pitches. That’s what I see – a lot of thinly disguised activity that isn’t knew even though it is declared to be new.

There’s another common response. One might flail around throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks – with no real goal in mind. If I don’t know where I’m going, I might get there – and not like it. So I’m personally going to begin this process by reviewing my stated goal – what I want my practice to be in light of a different market. The market for my services has definitely changed – some good, some bad changes. I’ll make sure my services match what the clients want and match my strengths and/or define the gaps. For some of us this will be a very challenging and complex process and for others, not so complex. Once I’m clear on that I will go through a very simply stated process, but one that isn’t so easy to actually do and execute.

First I’ll decide what I’m going to STOP doing. This had better be a pretty big list because things have changed and I will not have time to learn and do new things if I still have to do the old things. I can’t be like Microsoft here. I have to forget legacy systems and ruthlessly throw them overboard. As an example, right off the top of my head I can say I’ll stop all but a very minimum of print advertising and no direct snail mailing. For my practice, it’s not working any more (never was great anyway).

Next I’ll start thinking about what I’m going to START doing. This too will be a long list, and should comprise really new and different actions. Since I have a good idea of my new (or confirmed my original) goals for my practice I will need to start doing some things that I haven’t done before. Using myself as an example again, I’ve determined that I’m not going to advertise the way I did in the past, but I still have to reach out to clients. So I’m going to learn about and start using social media to expand my network reach. For me this is not only new, it can be a trap – I will definitely have to be disciplined in how much time and cash I spend on this new endeavor.

Finally, I’m going to determine what I will CONTINUE to do. There are some things that we do well and that we can continue to do. For my own practice, I will continue to be active in the local business community and add value wherever I can. I’ve been pretty good at this and it has been satisfying for me. It has also built a network of trusted advisors that are very useful to my clients as referred talent. And of course, in my line of work (and I suspect yours as well), my best clients and my network is where my new clients will be found – not from cold calls or printed advertisement or direct mailing.

So Stop, Start and Continue. A versatile and useful exercise. If you lead a large or small organization and you have had to let employees go, try getting those that are left to list three things that they used to do that they will now stop doing because they are picking up more work from those who have left. If you’re running a smooth operation, this is still a useful exercise if for no other reason than it points out what I’m doing that I think is unnecessary, but find out when I offer to stop doing it that the results are critical for another department or for serving the client.

What will you stop doing that is no longer effective, goal achieving or serving the client? Be ruthless. What will you start doing that is new for the organization, effectively addresses the changes you now are forced to admit have taken place? Be brave and creative. What will you continue doing that is still critical to the service or products you are providing to the customers? Be celebratory here. You got this one right. It, whatever it is for you, is so good that you will carry it over into this dawning decade. Change is inevitable. Are you and your company really and effectively changing?