I just spent three days at the National Speakers Association annual conference, “Influence 2016.”  This conference included a lot of discussions about innovating and creating a better future for your business. This focus is not surprising, since most speakers are paid to help their audiences envision a better future, and also because most speakers are small business owners who are constantly focused on improving their own futures.

I feel at home in those kinds of conversations, since my entire business is based on helping my clients take their businesses to the next level. What I’ve learned over the years is that any productive discussion of the future of a business needs to start with a look at the business’s current situation. If we want to envision the “new,” we have to start by understanding the “now.”

Unfortunately, most companies don’t have a clear view of their current state and aren’t able to answer the following questions in an accurate and confident way:

  1. What is really driving our profits and wealth creation?
  2. Which customers are most valuable to us?
  3. What customer behaviors most impact our company’s success?
  4. What do customers think about our company and our products?
  5. What is our customer experience like, from the point of view of our customers?
  6. What do our employees understand and believe about our company?

Why is it so critical to be able to answer these questions?

If you don’t have a clear and accurate understanding of your current situation– your “now”– it’s hard to define what you need to do to create a great future for your company– your “new.”

You won’t know what’s working. You won’t know what’s not working. You won’t know where to focus your attention and resources. Progress will stall as members of your team base their decisions (and arguments about decisions) on unfounded personal opinions, instead of on shared beliefs of what’s really going on in the company.

So what should you do?

Answer the six questions listed above.

Questions 1, 2 and 3 can be answered empirically, by data. Dig into your numbers, shedding all pre-conceived notions, in order to understand what’s really going on.

Questions 4 and 5 can be answered by different types of customer research that help you see your company through the eyes of your customers.

Question 6 can be answered by employee research that will help you understand what your company looks like from their point of view.

It’s very healthy to focus on the new future you want to create for your company. To do that, be sure to start with a benchmark understanding of what’s going on now.

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