hiding face

Most of us got over our last memory of genuine fear long ago: the bogey man about to jump out from behind every door; the poltergeist possessed clown doll on the top shelf of mum’s antique bookshelf… you know the drill !

We are now grown up and mature.  We are experienced business professionals, respected by peers and employees alike.  We have a great family, nice home, give to charity and have a long list of proud achievements.  We wake every morning and put on our ‘suit of armour’, confident we can handle whatever the world of business has in store for us today.  We were doing well yesterday, so why think today will be any different?

Or could it be different?

Here are 8 scenarios every business should fear:

  1. You get to the morning meeting and question a negative ‘blip’ in sales, only to hear some of your clients are discovering new ways to solve their problems.  Faster, easier, more effectively …. and more cheaply!
  2. You get to ‘client issues’ on the agenda and are told of a client who is growing nervous after reading a poor review of your company’s service.  You discover a number of clients have recently spoken poorly about your business in social media. You also learn many clients and prospects are doing much more independent research before agreeing to do business.
  3. You get a message as you leave the meeting that a client you have been chasing is finally on the phone.  You take the call only to be informed that she did not feel the need to prioritise your call because the problem (that, for many years, she paid your business to solve) has actually disappeared … ceased to exist!
  4. You get to mid-morning coffee and grab your iPad and read that another big name business has been pushed off its pedestal, by a handful of businesses no one had heard about 10 years ago, some not even 10 years old.
  5. You get to your to-do list and tonight’s presentation to staff of the new 5 year strategic plan is right on top.  Forty percent of your workforce are millennials who average 2 years in a company.  You are working on a draft on your iPad (which did not exist 3 years ago).  And remember your fury at the $3500 price tag for your Audi satnav map upgrade CD, threatening to only use Google Maps from now on?  For just a fleeting moment, you wonder if any of your people will think the 5 year plan is irrelevant and your presentation of it archaic?
  6. You get to your afternoon management meeting.  Your 2IC and brightest young star are absent.  They are meeting you are told.  Your fears are later realised. Your star is leaving to start a new business. He has thought of a new suite of solutions targeting the same clients as your business is targeting.  ”But nothing to fear.” you tell yourself.  ”He will be offering them a different service and the service he is offering, we could not offer anyway.  Our business is too big for that!”
  7. You get to early evening.  You are preparing for your presentation to staff, when your 2IC knocks.  A key salesman has been caught out for over selling services and is being investigated by the regulator for inadequately warning a client about risks.  The 2IC has discovered this salesman deliberately sought to sell the additional services consciously overlooking the additional client risk.  You are frustrated as the business only recently tightened its risk policies.  Next worry, how many more are doing it?
  8. You get to the function room only to be surprised at the small number of people present. Your PA reminds you that: on any given day about 25% of your staff now work from outside the office; the presentation is being streamed so staff can pick it up on a mobile device or computer; and she also reports that a number of younger people took the opportunity to arrange their own get together as they did not think the company presentation was going to be particularly interesting!

No one could have a day like that – could they?  OK maybe it is hard to see all this happening on one day, but does that make any of these scenarios any less real?  Why is it our cognitive bias takes over rationalising our decision jettison negative information, signs or clues?  On the face of it, these scenarios in isolation might not pose any imminent danger, otherwise we would fight or exit.  The very real danger is covert tectonic change is happening all around us and most of us are failing to see the signs or misreading the cues.  For many, it is like being the proverbial frog in heating water on a stove!

Fear isn’t bad.  Healthy, rational fear is good.  It is the way we have been created, so we can respond with fight or flight.  Fear based on reasoned judgement, balancing present circumstances with potential or anticipated future scenarios is ‘healthy fear’.  Healthy fear should be used to motivate us to proactively manage our strategy (business and personal). Unfortunately, fear is not crisis.  Until it becomes crisis, many of us are reluctant to act boldly (the proverbial frog again!).  When fear morphs into crisis, it turns into danger.  Proactivity and boldness rarely remain options, only compromise and fighting for survival.

Deep down, many of us have suspicions that at some point, we will need to fear for our business’s future.  How can we turn these suspicions into healthy fear, insight and action?

Every business should entertain healthy fear and have the disciplines to respond proactively.  Done well, it can even inspire our effort towards innovation.

So, what should you and your business be fearing?  How is your radar set up to capture the right clues?  How are you interpreting the signs?  What can you do about them?

Sometimes it’s easier for someone on the outside to help ask the tough questions.