Recently I attended an event for entrepreneurs and during one of the workshops the speaker David Henzel said something like: “Your habits determine how low you will fall when you fail.”
It was a lecture on personal development and the idea was that if you develop ‘good habits’ like taking care of your loved ones, daily reflection and meditation, regular exercise, saving for retirement, keeping in touch with friends, reading 10 minutes a day and so on, those habits will take care of you when you are going through a personal crisis.
If you are the one who always remembers your friends’ birthdays or you put a lot of energy into preparing something special for them, those friends will probably take care of you when you feel miserable and depressed. If you regularly do self-reflection exercises, like a 5-minute journal, you will become more self-aware, you will stop repeating the same mistakes and live a happier life.
Introducing those small changes into your life and sticking with them long enough to turn them into habits can have an enormous effect on the quality of your life. You can transform yourself and achieve your goals by forming good and healthy habits.
This applies to companies and businesses as well. Forming good habits is as important as strategy documents. Or as Peter Drucker once said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
A company that:
- follows trends,
- treats employees well,
- regularly evaluates and adjusts strategies,
- listens to customers,
- saves for bad times,
- invests in new products or solutions
is well prepared for bad times and can take advantage of a market in crisis. So if you really want to change and become the best it is essential for you to strategically develop good habits. Small daily routines that will improve your culture, help you climb to the top and hold your head above water during the bad times.
Keeping the focus means changing your behavior
According to HBR almost 70% of companies fail to execute their strategy. Most of those beautifully designed papers with lots of fancy charts and smart-sounding OKRs are never transformed from plan to reality. The management is busy dealing with day to day tasks, internal conflicts, reconciling budgets, and managing performance. Before they know it half a year passes by.
According to the above study, 85% of leadership teams spend less than an hour per month discussing strategy. Looks like there is always something more urgent and more important at the desk. And while they are trying to save the day they are losing the war.
Focus is usually a result of strategic thinking. A process where the company analyses its tactics, trends, competitors, resources and decides to tackle things a bit differently. This requires people to change, to do things in a different or new way, or in some cases to not do certain things that have been there forever. Ultimately achieving focus means changing people’s behavior like removing old routines and establishing new ones. Keeping focus is a list of small routines that should be carried out every week. Make sure everyone understands what the weekly goal is (and link the goal to some OKRs). Track progress and make it visible. Prioritize tasks and so on. A list of (mostly) simple to-dos. The hardest thing about it is, you need to do them every week.
Learn from your tests or how to get better through failure
James owns an e-commerce shop selling electric scooters. He has a long sales cycle. He is doing some google ads and social media advertising. It is hard for him to keep track of the customer journey due to 90 days default Google analytics cookie storage.
He decides to A/B test his current funnel with more of an email marketing approach. He builds lead capturing landing pages and sends paid traffic to the landing pages in order to collect leads. His idea is to do some email marketing campaigns in order to get more sales. He splits the budget, runs the campaigns for several weeks and checks the sales. Old campaigns did better, so he decides email marketing doesn’t work for him.
Everything is done by the book. Emails don’t work. Right? Wrong. James just compared 3 weeks of email marketing to 3 weeks of paid advertising. At the same time he is fully aware his sales cycle is way longer than just three weeks. Plus campaigns are well optimized while initial emails are his first attempt towards email marketing. He has much to learn before he becomes good at it.
James jumped to his decisions too quickly based on the wrong metrics. He put a lot of effort into building dedicated landing pages and email flows, so he should run and optimize the campaigns at least half a year before making this kind of decision.
Everybody is talking about the data driven approach: A/B testing statistics and comparisons. But few people really take time to do them properly. Evaluating the data, extracting insights, keeping track of learning points are key steps in the process. They are also the last and most painful steps of the process.
This is the time for some self-reflection. Maybe we tested the wrong thing? Maybe the emails weren’t good enough? Maybe our goal was not realistic? Admitting our failure might make us look bad in front of a client or coworkers. Build a culture where failure is ok as long as you learn something. Teach your team how to give constructive feedback, make open sessions at the end of each test and maximize learning momentum of failures. Because it is not about the current test or current KPI. Once you become good in brainstorming experiments, testing ideas and getting useful insights out of the process, then only the sky’s the limit.
Save millions on consultants and talk to customers instead
The whole lean startup movement is based on customer interviews. Steve Blanks Four Steps to the Epiphany dedicates the whole first part of the book to customer discovery. But a lot of business owners are still ignoring that part.
“Franci, look at this crazy deal,” a client told me on a skype call. “I’m getting a ton of Mexican blankets for $4/piece. Crazy deal, we can sell them for at least $20.” And he already had videos starring young hipster girls with a dog. On the beach during sunset … Everything looked perfect. Until we tried to sell the item. After a few weeks it turned out most of our buyers were actually women, only they were 40 years older than we had expected. So we had to redesign the page and change the strategy. A few customer interviews would have saved us so much time, effort and money …
Call at least one of your customers every week. Ask them simple questions about your service or product. You will be amazed by how much you can learn. It will keep you grounded and in touch with your audience. Another thing that always amazes me about customer interviews is how few you actually need to get useful insights. We do 10 interviews but the reality is, after the initial five we rarely get new insights.
Forming a habit
One tricky thing about habits is we don’t repeat them concisely. We do them without even realizing we are doing them. That is why good habits are so powerful and bad ones are so devastating.
When you are doing something new you are doing it with your prefrontal cortex. Once you do something 30 and more times, those processes move from the prefrontal cortex into deeper parts of the brain. You no longer have to think about it, it all comes naturally to you. Let’s say you want people to track working time and add comments to it so you can plan your work and bill clients more efficiently. At the beginning, there will probably be a lot of arguments. Some employees will try to fight or disobey this new rule. Claiming it is slowing them down and that they feel someone is supervising them all the time and so on. You will have to be consistent for at least 30 working days, making sure they are using time tracking service every day. After a few months when people get used to it, no one will complain. Time tracking will be part of the process. Completely natural to everyone.
When you are introducing a new habit to the team it is important you understand that it takes some time and a lot of energy. Don’t try to introduce too many things at once. Do one by one. Be consistent and you will be surprised how much you will develop in a year.