Adaptation is a buzzword in the business community because it grapples with the fact that the only thing predictable in life is change.
Adaptation turns upon a simple question: Can your business learn from external events?
A young business succeeds because of its ability to profit from a particular external environment. Energized by its early achievement, the young business is prone to repeat the same practice without regard for change. In short, the successful, young business stops learning as it ages. It risks becoming a victim of its own success.
The solution is to borrow a page from educators and foster systemic lifelong learning in your business. When your business becomes a lifelong learner, it capitalizes upon change. It does this by ensuring that every person in your business’ value network – that collection of customers, employees, suppliers and anybody else who interacts with your business – is a co-producer of value.
While an organizational overhaul requires considerable time and effort, below are two tips that will place your business on a path to lifelong learning.
First, are you resolving customer feedback constructively or productively? Most businesses take a constructive approach to customer feedback. Customer feedback is valued and concerns are resolved satisfactorily. This is good. However, the lifelong learning business goes one step further and focuses on productive solutions.
A productive solution means that customer service experiences are effectively communicated to product development and sales departments. Customer service is not simply a matter of product support to protect a reputation or to preserve customer loyalty. Customer service is a window into why and how your customers use your products. This information will suggest your business’ next innovation or sales pitch. In essence, your customers become co-producers of value.
Second, are your senior managers aligned with your business’ strategy, vision and values? A senior manager without strategic knowledge is not capable of making good decisions in a changing environment. A senior manager without knowledge of the organization’s vision and values lacks the most basic tools to take the right risk at the right time. It is that simple.
In an environment that can only be described as a strategic vacuum, silos evolve naturally; there is no broad interdepartmental co-operation – the production of value through synergy – because there is no sense of context. Your business will not anticipate change, let alone learn from it. Avoid silos by talking with your senior managers about how changes to the external environment affect what your organization is trying to achieve: the wheat of the matter.
At the individual level, lifelong learning requires a voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge over the course of one’s life. At the business level, lifelong learning needs an organizational structure that treats every node in your value network – including customers and senior managers – as co-producers of value.
Tate Bengtson is the executive director of the Enderby & District Chamber of Commerce.