Thursday, April 19, 2012

Over the Hood & Over the Horizon

Recently I received some great advice from an old friend whom I have the pleasure of currently working with; once again reinforcing the idea that learning should never stop regardless of where you are in your life or career and that we often learn the most from people who know us the best. The lesson goes something like this:

Over the past year we have achieved some significant business results and I have been (and am!) so proud of my team and our entire company in how everyone has come together, dug deep (see the previous essay “The Hidden Vigorish”) and closed out our fiscal year with distinction. In the normal course of business life, as soon as one year’s business plan is achieved, the next year’s business plan is upon us, seemingly more challenging than ever! Well wouldn’t you know that as we dove into the new fiscal we were faced with a new set of challenges, new hurdles, new opportunities, and seemingly in a blink of an eye, the success of the past year was gone and the reality of the new fiscal was everywhere.

It was after a very stern toned conference call that I held with my team that I received a call from my old friend, checking in on me making sure that I was “aok.” My tone seemed obviously strained to him on the call and I just didn’t sound like “his old friend Bill.” We talked for a little while, me sharing some of my thoughts, challenges and frustrations (it’s good to have old friends) and he quietly shared a simple and profound idea; “Bill, just remember that you need to steer the car by looking over the hood AND looking over the horizon, not one or another.” Deeply true, deeply profound, and very timely advice for yours truly!

I had been so focused on finishing the year strong, closing out the last quarter and month in a winning way, that my focus had shifted from the horizon to the hood over the past few weeks and months. As we immediately moved into the new fiscal year I maintained that same “hood-oriented” focus, not taking a moment to readjust my approach. I had become stuck in “hood mode” and had temporarily lost the perspective on the challenges and opportunities “over the horizon.” Getting stuck in either mode has its dangers:

“Over the Hood” focused; When one become so locked on the short term challenges and results, it’s too easy to lose the strategic framework of what you are trying to achieve. What are the broader 1/3/5 year priorities, goals, and opportunities and how are your short term actions helping (or hurting) your ability to succeed? A key concern in this mode is that you and your organization could become so locked on execution and short term results, you ignore the very real need to always be building organizational skills and capabilities for future success. It’s tempting to delay training, it’s tempting to leave open positions unfilled, not having the time to interview candidates, etc, etc, etc.

“Over the Horizon” focused; When one becomes so locked on long term strategies and plans, it’s equally easy to lose the required focus and intensity on immediate execution needs. In my 25+ years of a professional career, I have never encountered a business that ran itself or had an “auto-pilot” function, and I am certain that I never will! The competitive marketplace is ever moving, ever changing, and if you ignore the short term, thinking it will take of itself, my experience tells me that you may not have a long term to even worry about!

Well my lesson was clear; while keeping my hands proverbially at the “10 & 2” on the steering wheel of the business, I needed to work on the balance of my perspective. I have kept a strong view “Over the Hood,” and have been working on ways to expand my view “over the horizon.” Whether by digging deeper into a competitive marketplace analysis, or refreshing myself on a broader view of the annual business plan with its broader challenges AND opportunities, there are numerous ways for me to intentionally refocus “over the horizon.” Very helpful and very timely!

As a closing note, a big thank you goes out to my old friend! It’s easy for all of us, regardless of success, experience, or title, to get a little “stuck” sometimes; and I am grateful to have friends in my professional life who can help me find my way” over the horizon” when it’s obvious that I am stuck trying to drive the car “looking solely over the hood.”

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