It’s not too late to win the year
By David Kidder, Co-founder+ CEO of Bionic
Common wisdom holds that the first 100 days of a new year (or a new job, relationship, etc.) are the most important for driving the momentum that leads to success for the rest of the year. Last week, we passed day 100 of 2021. And as we all know, this past year was different, and our teams started the year already feeling depleted and trying to catch their breath. So, you may be panicking that you’re too late to gain the momentum back and get your strategic goals in line. You may be asking yourself if your organization is positioned for growth. And the answer this year may very likely be ‘no.’
Living through 2020 was such a radical departure from every other year in memory, beginning with a global pandemic, then a near-total shutdown of many businesses, then recovery with extended remote and hybrid working. It would be no surprise if your teams have not yet carefully considered their yearly goals and how to win. Everyone is burnt out and just trying to catch their breath. Luckily, it’s not too late to win the year.
If you're feeling late, or your leadership “gut” tells you your team is not prepared, it's time to re-energize your team. But to do so, you must move from defense to offense - from a mindset of surviving to one of winning.
From Surviving to Winning
Now is the time to shift your mindset and realize that you have to be flexible and agile, give up the myth of certainty, and create opportunities for your team to thrive. Your organization has spent the last year reacting to external forces. And while you have been busy doing that, the world has changed.
To do this well, start by revalidating your core customers’ needs and problems, create a new baseline of their behaviors (not what they say, but what they do…), and watch how your existing and new competitors have adapted and solved these changes, needs, and behaviors. Look hard at “small” competitors who are closer to the customer’s needs, and may have more permission and speed than you do.
Ask your team to run experiments to test these burning questions in order to reveal new commercial truths about your customers. Remind your team that you want to hear the unvarnished truth, even if it’s bad news. You need to stare down the following questions:
- Where has customer behavior shifted?
- Where has disruption (new needs and behaviors) become a habit or created new customer expectations?
- Are these permanent changes? (Habits only take 66 days to cement.)
- What do your customers value now that they didn’t 12 months ago?
Now evaluate these questions for you, and for your team:
- What are the customer’s new expectations from our organization?
- What challenges does this present us with, and what unexpected opportunities are now open to us?
- Does our team have the permission to be open about these new commercial truths?
- Does our team have the resources inside and out, to set down old truths (product/ solutions/ process/ policy), and create new outcomes?
By asking and answering these questions, many of which will require your team to run new experiments, you update your understanding of the playing field.
Then, once you are armed with this new understanding, it’s time to play to win. Playing to win means focusing deliberately on new opportunities and new successes, as opposed to guarding against or offsetting past beliefs, investments, and losses (Don’t succumb to the sunk cost bias). Research shows that when you play to win, you create better outcomes than when you play “not to lose.”
This mindset shift is inspired and encouraged by Po Bronson, author of “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.” Bronson’s research explores how a person’s psyche drives most outcomes. Bronson wrote, “Gain-orientation pushes you to take risks to get something you don’t already have. Prevention-orientation pushes you to avoid danger.”
Take, for instance, how this psychology plays out in soccer. Bronson cites research that analyzed penalty kicks in soccer games to settle a tie. Researchers looked at two scenarios: If your team is down by one, and you must make the goal to tie the game but if you miss it, your team loses. The second scenario: your team is tied, and you don’t have to make the goal, but if you do, you’ll win. If you play not to lose, often it leads to avoidable mistakes. “When making the goal that will result in a win, kickers go for it and find the net 92% of the time. When missing means a loss, kickers succeed just 62% of the time,” writes Bronson. That 30% difference can be chalked up to psychological circumstances.
You play to win by building on your updated understanding of the playing field and deliberately choosing to make offensive moves in the most opportune areas of that field. Taking a portfolio approach to these decisions -- i.e. placing bets in more than one area -- increases the likelihood that you will be ‘right and on time’ with your strategy, to guarantee gains for your year. The goal is learning velocity - and in this moment, whoever learns the fastest, wins.
Teams Need Processes to Know How to Win
How do you ensure your organization has the proper 'play to win' mindset to go after new opportunities?
First, you need to understand the impact of external forces on your business. What has changed as a result of developments outside of the company over the past 12 months?
Next, you must accept hard truths about your business. The changes external to the organization may mean certain old ways of doing things are no longer relevant. Your team needs to accept that the past is past, and it is time to rise to meet the future.
Then, discover opportunity areas for growth and the intersection of emerging market forces and unmet customer needs. How do these changes in market forces and needs combine to create new, potentially unnoticed opportunities for new growth?
Having done that, you must validate those new, unmet needs. Which of these needs can you act on to create bigger, better businesses than even your current and previous business models? Which ones play to your proprietary gifts the most?
Finally, having validated new needs and solutions for meeting them, you must pivot (transform) products and channels as required to satisfy the best of these unmet needs. In doing this, you set in motion the forces that will ultimately win the year for you and your organization.
Leadership Sets The Permission Ceiling
The first step to implementing these process changes to win the year in 2021 is for you as a leader to commit, and own the mindset and permission for growth. Unlearning old beliefs and skills and making room for new mindsets at the top of the organization is the necessary prerequisite to implementing change throughout the organization. Any new process for winning will simply be window dressing to the same old business-as-usual, without a radical shift in mindsets at the leadership level to go on offense.
We are past the first 100 days of the year, into Q2, headed quickly towards Q3. It will all come fast this year, and yet there is still time to lock in a winning strategy for the year. To do so, update your mindsets, follow a strong growth process for discovering and acting on new market truths, and go on offense.
BIONIC Co-Founder + CEO