6 Keys To Keeping Your Company In The Lead

Decades ago, markets changed much more slowly than they do now. This made it possible for leaders to conduct rigorous industry and competitor analysis to enable them to plan for the future.

In the last decade or so handheld devices and social media have changed everything. Now business leaders can both set long-term goals while being prepared to react quickly and effectively to sudden surprises.

These could range from viral videos of complaining customers and outraged employees — such as this viral PowerPoint presentation from overworked junior Goldman Sachs employees — to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Companies must act to create the future while sensing and reacting to real-time changes. As Corey Thomas, CEO of Rapid7, a cybersecurity company, told me in a March 16 interview, business leaders need a new model for making decisions that keeps their culture constant but stands ready to change everything else.

If I were running a company, I would base that model on two principles:

  • Value leadership: providing your employees, customers, partners, investors and communities more value than your competitors do and holding people accountable for getting better at value creation.
  • Boundaryless company development: monitoring each stakeholder to sense real-time changes in their attitudes towards your company, screen out the noise, and respond to the signals’ by capturing the new opportunities they reveal and defending against their threats.

I think both principles are important for leaders because companies must take both longer-term proactive steps — for which value leadership is a key principle — and sense and respond to real-time, unfiltered signals some of which could quickly demand a response. 

Here are six steps for creating a dashboard that can keep your company at the forefront of your industry.

1. Keep in regular contact with key stakeholders.

The CEO should meet regularly with a small number of representatives of each stakeholder group. Those meetings should feature discussions of how they and their families are doing; areas where the company is exceeding their expectations and falling short; and how and why their needs and expectations are changing.

2. Ask your leadership team to listen and respond to key stakeholders.

At the same time, the CEO should not be primarily responsible for those relationships. Instead, the CEO should hold accountable members of the company’s leadership team for keeping key stakeholders happy. This is an excellent way to identify and develop the company’s most promising leaders.

The CEO should meet with the leadership team regularly — possibly monthly or weekly — to debrief them on how things are going with the company’s employees, customers, partners, investors and communities.

In those meetings, the CEO should be keenly attuned to differences between her perception of how things are going with stakeholders and what her leadership team is saying. For example, the CEO should investigate further if she senses that employees and customers are becoming dissatisfied but her leadership team reports only good news. 

3. Gauge stakeholders’ changing perceptions of your company’s value. 

Companies should conduct statistically significant numbers of surveys with all its key stakeholders at least on a quarterly basis. In this way, business leaders can identify longer-term trends, such as increasing or diminishing employee and customer satisfaction with the value the company is creating for them and other key stakeholders.

Such trends should be compared to more tangible factors — such as changes in employee attrition, talent levels, customer retention and net retention — e.g., whether customers are buying more from your company; and customer’s net promoter scores. 

Armed with this information, business leaders should have a clear picture of whether the company is maintaining its industry leadership or at risk of falling behind. If the latter, this information can help leaders to adjust how they operate to reverse the decline.

4. Assign staffers to monitor abrupt stakeholder sentiment changes.

It’s safe to say that very few business leaders were trained to prepare for social media surprises that abruptly derail careers and sully corporate reputations.

Nonetheless, CEOs must monitor such blowups and contain them. To that end, business leaders must assign people to keep an eye on social media related to how employees, customers, shareholders and other stakeholders perceive the company.

5. Investigate signals that could be opportunities and/or threats.

A potentially troubling social media post, should spur the company to decide whether it’s noise or a signal that could damage the company’s general reputation, force the loss of a customer, lead to a key executive departure, or conversely, be a new opportunity for the company..

6. Seize the opportunities and defend against the threats.

Ultimately, a business leader must react quickly to real-time signals that demand an effective response while continuing to invest in new products and ways of operating that enhance the value your company creates for its stakeholders.

These six steps can propel those efforts ever forward.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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