“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu
It’s not groundbreaking to suggest that leaders need to always be thinking about the future. Everybody knows that already. That’s why organizations have planning sessions, retreats, etc. We’re all trying to discern what our business needs to be to succeed down the road, whether it’s 3 years, 5 years, or 10 years from now.
When we’re thinking about the future, though, too often we spend all our time thinking about ourselves. We talk about products we think are exciting, staffing concerns we have, and supply issues we fear. And certainly those are all things we’ll have to work out.
But what if we start in a different place? Instead of thinking about the road you’re on, start by thinking about the journey your customer is making. If we don’t provide value to our customers, we cease to exist. How can we provide value if we don’t understand our customers’ future?
Think about your target customer (hopefully you know who that is). If that’s too broad, be more specific – start with your company’s best customer. Now ask yourself this question: What challenges and changes will our target customers face in the next 3-5 years? Are they in growth industries? Will innovation be a big part of what they’re doing? What kinds of things will happen in relation to their workforce?
Here’s the next question: What do these challenges and changes mean for us as their vendor or service provider? Are the products and services we provide today still relevant? If not, or even if less so than today, how do we have to adapt our delivery? What parts of our business will require serious innovation on our part?
These aren’t easy questions. One of the problems is that we typically don’t understand our customers and their businesses as well as we should. We think we do, but too often that understanding is very shallow.
Take time to think about your customers. If you can paint a clear picture of their future, show them what you see. Demonstrate to them that you understand what’s coming on their journey and that, oh by the way, you can provide them something of value along the way. Don’t just wait for them to change and then hope they still need you. Don’t just be along for the ride.