Fans of The Eagles – and really, how can you not be a fan of a group that has produced so many memorable songs on the way to selling a whopping 150 million albums over their 30 year span – will be interested in a fascinating documentary titled “History of the Eagles” (2013). The film chronicles the band’s many triumphs and personal struggles. I recently watched it over the course of two nights (it’s almost four hours long) and was riveted throughout. At one point, there is footage from a press conference The Eagles conducted in 1994 to publicize their upcoming “Hell Freezes Over” reunion tour. A reporter asked the band if they’d be playing just their many hits, or would also introduce new material into their sets. Don Henley answered the question by saying they would of course be singing their signature songs, classics like “Hotel California” and “Take it Easy,” but it was also very important (and creatively rewarding) to mix in new material along the way. He said that if they sang nothing but the old songs it would quickly become boring for both them and the audience.
There’s a lesson in his response for all of us involved in the development and execution of strategy – and that means every employee from the CEO on down. Our equivalent of “classic songs” and “hits” are the products and services we’ve been providing for many years and the accompanying processes we’ve relied upon to “get things done.” Sometimes we become so enamored with our “classic” products that they become almost sacred, and we continue to churn them out regardless of whether or not our audience – paying customers – is ready for something new and different. The same applies to the processes and procedures we employ on a day-to-day basis. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a client about a process that seems at the very least ineffective, only to hear, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Eventually, doing the same old thing – producing repeat products and services with no real differentiation and utilizing the same processes and procedures – bores us, makes us less effective in the marketplace, and results in our customers signaling their disinterest by taking their business elsewhere. A true lose/lose proposition.
Peter Drucker, the original rock star management guru, coined the term “abandonment” to describe a method of periodically questioning what we sell, how we go to market, what processes we utilize, and determining whether change was necessary. He suggested you ask yourself this fundamental question: “If we weren’t already in this business, would we enter it today?” He also noted that in order to grow, and growth is an imperative for virtually every organization, “A business must have a systematic policy to get rid of the outgrown, the obsolete, the unproductive." It can be challenging, because the status quo exerts enormous pressure on all of us to continue down the same well-trodden path we’ve been walking without questioning whether it’s leading us where we want and need to go. But to generate long-term success, we need to exit that gravitational pull and take a long hard look at the way we do things, and the products and services that result from our key processes.
Performance measures used as part of a Balanced Scorecard or other management system are often part of the problem, but can also be part of the solution to this task. An old adage reminds us “What gets measured gets managed.” In other words, we tend to pay most attention to what we’re currently tracking, regardless of whether or not those indicators represent a strategy of change and innovation necessary to stay relevant in our marketplace. I challenge you to critically examine your measures and ask if they provide an accurate representation of your chosen strategic direction. The measures you rely upon for competitive insight should be directly translated from your unique strategy – one that creates differentiation and some form of lasting advantage. If your measures are stale, your strategy may be similarly past its expiration date.
Remember, just like The Eagles, never rely exclusively on your own back catalog of “hits.” Make it a discipline to periodically question the fundamental underpinnings of your business. Do so and in “The Long Run” you’ll avoid a “Heartache Tonight” and can “Take it (your business) to the Limit.”
Notes: Drucker Quote: http://www.inc.com/articles/2009/11/drucker.html