One of my weaknesses is writing a pre-scheduled article. Like this one. I used to not even be able to do it, just out of not trying. In fact, if I was not “inspired” by something timely I would not write. That is probably why I had a blog for 10 years and never really wrote much in it. When I launched Make Space for Growth I made a commitment to writing weekly, rain or shine. I also made a commitment to ensure every so often I would review topics that would be evergreen and important to those reading, even if that did not feel particularly inspiring. So as I committed to navigate to the 5 key questions for a CEO moment reflection, today is time to talk about our weaknesses.
Is this a therapy session?
Not at all. I am here mostly to talk about the business, but if you insist I am sure I can throw in a few personal development points before the end. As I discussed opportunity in the previous article, it is only fitting that we also assess the weaknesses. Not because I want to make a SWOT analysis out of this, but here are 3 reasons why you need to know your weaknesses:
- Sometimes, the best opportunity is in fixing a weakness. That could be the fastest way to more sales, more efficiency, improved client relationships.
- Other times, it is about not losing a key strength and making it instead sustainable over time. The danger of disruptive innovation is always looming if you have an established business.
- The same way as we want to assess what the upside on the path forward is, we also need to know what the downside is.
If you don’t know where you can fail, how can you prevent it?
I know, thinking about what can go wrong sounds pessimistic and exactly what you don’t want to be doing in times like this, or when you have a short moment to take a deep breath. But hey, the good thing is you can make your weaknesses less weak. If you are in charge, that is indeed your job, to constantly look for your own blind spots. It is key to strike a balance between the pursuit of new opportunities (that may or may not result in anything meaningful) and the constant evaluation of what we have today and what can go wrong with it. As in fact, that is often what pays the bills.
How do I find weakness in my business?
I know you have a brilliant business. But I will spare the pampering and cut straight to the chase. Every business has weaknesses and it is the job of a CEO to find out what they are, together with a plan on how to address or mitigate them. Sometimes, we can’t get rid of all the problem areas, no doubt that is true. But we can engage in risk management, which means by knowing what we are exposed to, we can take action to reduce some of that.
Some of the steps to find your weaknesses can be very similar to those to find your opportunity areas. In fact, the data that gives you information on the upside, a lot of times has big red flashing lights about what can go wrong.
Look around you
The same way as market data gives you good insights about opportunities, what can you see in the areas that you have gaps? In my 9 years as a strategist, I have found the greatest amount of information into looking at a gap analysis for our weaker areas.
The same was as clients may be telling you what they want you to do and provide, it is likely they will also easily tell you what they do not like in your products. Granted, sometimes that feedback is not forthcoming, but there are ways to ask questions that will make people comfortable. Rule #1 – don’t get defensive. In the face of someone willing you to tell you what is not so good about your business, take it in the face. Yes, I do mean that. And give the other cheek. What you want is not to defend yourself red-faced in the heat of the moment (red-face shows over zoom as well). Rule #2 – you want to go back with all the pieces of feedback and have a follow up conversation where you can explain how you will address the valuable points handed to you.
As I have taken a new role heading a new business that I was previously not familiar with, I have been asking people that use our services to tell me i) what do they like about our product (yes, tap myself in the shoulder) but more importantly ii) what do they like about other people’s products, iii) what do we do that is not in line with others, iv) what did they wish we offered. And believe me, I have to repeat a few times ii) to iv) or people will prefer to stay at i). It is much easier territory. But a client that values your services and is interested in the long term sustainability of what you have to offer will likely be great at providing feedback.
Look inside you
No, I have not gotten to the therapy session yet. The other great people that can provide you with great feedback are your team members. Historically, I have run an annual offsite in our charity. It is an opportunity for us to have time together over a nice lunch, but over the last years, I have really made this a CEO and team strategy day. And we spare no opportunities to point the finger at what we did wrong or could be done better. This is not without some heart pain, as naturally we all feel emotionally attached to what we have created. But it needs to happen. Not surprisingly, we know ourselves better than anyone and also those around us. So the team is the best place to start.
You may tell me you have no team and you run a one woman show. This may be trickier, I understand. But when you run a 1-3 woman show, you will still have mentors, advisors, close family or friends that may be close to your entrepreneurial journey and maybe have more to tell you on weaknesses than you think of.
As I embarked in my new journey on the new business recently, I have certainly gone out to team members to collect opinions. And whilst I am still half way through, I was not surprised to find out that everyone had something to say about how things should be run differently. The good part of that is that people care, the bad part is that there is work to do, the other good part is that those people will want to help you do it.
Time for introspection
So you know what external and internal parties think. It is now time to look at yourself and compare with what you have just heard.
Take a deep look at what you offer. You can do it as a matrix, where you establish what your products/ services are vs. what the feedback is for each product. In fact, you want to probably go to the detail of what the features are and how they are perceived. If I was treating Make Space for Growth as a product, I would think of i) the blog, ii) the newsletter, iii) the podcast, iv) the facebook community as the 4 main products. For each of them I would want to understand what is good but also more importantly, where they are failing people. For example
- Blog: Is it too long? It has too much strategy stuff ? Or rather too much personal stuff? Too many links to internal articles? Or too few links to external articles? It is too regular? Or not regular enough?
- Newsletter: is it too long? Does it have too much content? Or just too much about myself? Does it not enough about the world? Or it has too much about what is going on? Not enough evergreen topics? Too many words? Too few pictures? Boring quotes? Dumb random thoughts?
- Podcast: It is too long? Or instead too short? Talks about too much personal stuff? Or actually not enough personal stories? Too broad in terms of number of countries? Needs to be more international? Too little frequency? Don’t like audio, want video?
- Community: Are there not enough posts? Or not enough people on the group? Not enough interaction? Too many pictures? Too many of my own articles?
Did you notice how I am always worried I use too many words? As you can see, I have a deep ability to be brutally honest (and borderline unkind to myself). And you can drop me a note if you want to help me answer any of these questions. The thoughts above are only in my head and represent what I grapple with when I start an article, a podcast or a weekly newsletter. But rather than dwelling on it, I look for comparables, see what is out there, seek feedback from trusted friends and make adjustments. Which leads me to the next bit.
The goal here is not for you to end up with a laundry list of commiseration. You have to chose to let go of what you feel about the feedback and take some action. One thing that is important to bear in mind is your target audience. Some people will give you feedback and you ought not to care. I am recommending you do a weakness assessment only on the basis of you being certain about who your perfect avatar is. In the absence of that, you may end up with very disparate and non meaningful results. It is time to get out of this article if you need to find out more on your target audience and come back when you are ready. But assuming you do know who you are aiming to have in your client list, you need to care about that feedback.
Now, it does not mean you turn the company around from one moment to the other. There are times where people give feedback or say they would like (and pay for) something but they really would not when it is time to open the wallet. So you need to go start-up style and do some testing. A/B ideal so you can assess results but if you don’t have enough critical mass go for pure testing. Adjust and ask for feedback. Create and see the impact. Make small changes each time so you can actually assess the measure of each change. And persevere for a bit. Just because you don’t see an impact in a month, it does not mean it is meaningless.
Work in Progress
As long as you slowly move in a direction, you are not going to address all weaknesses at the same time. I know I spoke about prioritization for the opportunities, but with the weaknesses, sometimes it is more complex than that. It is not uncommon that weaknesses are inter-related, have small incremental impact and, more importantly, are not easy to solve in a consistent manner across clients. So for weaknesses, I actually advocate slow but steady change. All are likely to matter , so start moving them along.Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash