By Andy Fromm
As business leaders, we tend to place a lot of emphasis on what we know—and being right about it. After all, our clients come to us for our expertise. It’s a key ingredient of our success. This mindset has become so ingrained, that we rarely question it.
But even though knowledge and expertise are part of your value proposition, they can also be an obstacle to growth and evolution. That’s because confidence in what we know can easily become a conviction that we are always right. It’s understandable: there’s a fine line between confidence and certainty. And confidence has its place in every business. But when your convictions about being right are unbending, you lose the ability to listen and take valuable input. More importantly, you also lose your curiosity.
The Curiosity Muscle—the book I co-wrote with best-selling author Diana Kander—really digs into this problem of inflexible conviction. It’s a challenge so many companies face—of maintaining growth and not plateauing. It’s extremely dangerous and detrimental to get comfortable in your success. No matter what industry you are in, it’s not static. Nothing is. And truly successful companies—the ones with longevity and growth—know how to ride the waves of change.
How? They remain curious. They look to their customers and employees for constant feedback. They listen and take action on what those customers tell them. And most importantly, they ask questions—specifically these:
1. What are our blind spots?
Without curiosity about what our customers want, we develop blind spots about our business. These are tension points that competitors or some eager entrepreneur will be happy to exploit. In order to stay competitive in today’s fast-changing economy, companies need to figure out how to consistently find their blind spots and solve them to create new value for customers.
Now, these blind spots aren’t the same as weaknesses, because you can see your weaknesses. In fact, the trouble with blind spots is that they can hide in broad daylight, disguised as parts of your business you think are thriving. Seeing them requires an openness to being wrong—something not every person or company is willing to do. The obvious can become so ingrained that we fail to see what’s right in front of us.
Something that we think is best-in-class may not be. It is through constant checking, questioning, and validating that we are able to truly uncover our blind spots and give customers what they really want.
2. Are we focused on the right thing?
In today’s tech-driven, digital world, focus can be a challenging act. We have more and more resources, options, and channels delivering us information every second. In fact, the human population is now said to have an attention span of just eight seconds—shorter than a goldfish.
It’s very easy to get hyper-focused on what’s right in front of you and in turn, become reactionary. This is especially true for business professionals. While the constant stream of feedback is imperative to making strategic business decisions, it’s also very important to take a step back, consider the big picture, and avoid a knee-jerk reaction.
Uncover what drives customer satisfaction and business results. The truth is, you can’t fix everything. But you can focus on what will have the biggest impact on your organization.
3. What can we test?
It can be overwhelming for organizations to make changes—no matter the scale. From a complete operational overhaul to a minor app tweak, every alteration needs to be made thoughtfully and strategically. And the best way to set these changes up for success is to take a “look before you leap” approach and test them before a full roll-out.
Follow these three guidelines for meaningful change:
- Fight the “no” impulse: Early dismissal of a new idea can be detrimental to your brand. Maybe you’ve tried something similar before and it didn’t work. Maybe the change seems way too expensive or complicated. But that doesn’t mean the idea is impossible—it may mean that you need to look at it in a different way and come up with a new plan.
- Compromise + strategize: Very few good ideas come from a single source—most are created through collaboration. So if someone presents a need or idea, you don’t have to implement the suggestion exactly. The reality is there are hundreds of ways to implement an idea. If the idea is strategically right, your job is to find the one that makes the most sense for your company.
- Measure the change: Testing means nothing if you can’t measure the impact. Organize and execute the testing in a way that allows for clear comparison. Take extra caution with implementation—the key is to be able to parse out, as best as possible, what customers really want.
4. How can we engage others to achieve our goals?
By ridding yourself of a know-it-all attitude and checking your ego at the door, you’ll soon realize that you have access to a vast number of resources. Your organization is full of people who have varying perspectives and key insights on ways to make your company better.
Empower your employees to provide feedback. Customer-facing associates are especially important—they have the unique advantage of working closest with your customers and can offer tangible and practical ways to improve business. This will also help engage your employees and get them more invested in the success of their company. By knowing they are making a difference and their feedback is valuable, they will become advocates for your brand.
Having to always be right is the number one reason companies miss simple opportunities for innovation. If leaders are more worried about being right, they’re less likely to make the best decisions. Paradoxically, the more successful a person becomes, the more attached they get to being right. The resulting blind spots block access to ideas for better solutions and information about what customers really want.
Give your employees (and yourself) not only the opportunity, but encouragement to accept that you don’t know everything. Don’t be too busy being right to be curious. Curiosity is a leader’s greatest asset—driving constant innovation, improvement, and the bottom line.
Andy Fromm is Chairman and CEO of Service Management Group (SMG)—a leading, global customer experience measurement firm that combines technology and insights for the world’s leading brands, including a host of Fortune 500 companies.
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