Finding True North when your Business is heading south!

Sailors have always faced great risks when traveling at sea. Sudden storms could break their masts and shred their sails. Giant waves could sink their ships or wash men overboard. Hidden reefs could tear open their hulls. And even if they are lucky enough to avoid these, sailors could still become hopelessly lost and wander until starvation, thirst or disease set in.

To avoid getting lost sailors need to know two things: where they are and where they are going. To know where they are, they need to know their latitude and longitude. To know where they are going, they need to know their compass direction.

Being in business these days feels almost as if you’re sailing on the high seas the question is – are we using a compass or do we have the skill to find True North? And what happens when the sky is overcast and we can no longer see the North Star?

I saw a movie some time ago called Courageous where a policeman, having lost his daughter because of a drunk driving incident, questioned his performance as a father. He was left with his wife and son and was really grieving that he did not give his daughter his all and was failing his family.

He decided to create a page full of principles that he would live his life by and encouraged his colleagues to join him. They agreed to have a ceremony where they all signed individual resolutions signifying their commitment to living out the words on paper. The pastor overseeing the ceremony reminded the men that it was fine to sign their names to the document and feel as if they were capable of living the principles but the real test would come when adversity struck.

So now that adversity has struck (and I say this with confidence because no one has been spared from the economic havoc this rounds) – what principles are you using to guide your direction and decision making?

The first document you need is your Strategic Objective. According to Sam Carpenter author of Work the System “The Strategic Objective is not a nebulous, feel-good mission statement based on self-aggrandized hope; it is not something designed to make the board of directors feel good about themselves or intended to impress stockholders and staff. Instead it is a concise blueprint in which we acknowledge day to day reality in a mechanized, non-wishful thinking way. Without syrupy excess, it includes a brief narration of what the company does, where it’s headed and how management and staff will get there.” If Sam were a Trini I’d say that we just got boofed!

But he’s absolutely right. If you have just this document in front of you on a daily basis you won’t feel lost anymore.

When Robin Sharma came to Trinidad last year June, I volunteered to join him on stage to do an exercise, one on one with the leadership guru. Basically he asked this question over and over of me, looking into my eyes “What do you doing your best work look like?” On the surface it seemed so simple. But he just asked it over and over. My answers became less and less guarded until he reached to my heart and I opened up.

We must all get to this point of knowing ourselves, what we’re best at and what does our ‘best work’ find us doing. Guy Kawasaki suggests that we create a mantra for our businesses. A mantra is three or four words long. Its purpose is to help employees truly understand why the organization exists and help you remember why you got into business in the first place.

In a Forbes Women article called Building Your Personal Brand we are advised “Your brand mantra should communicate clearly who you are, it should be simple and memorable, and it should feel inspiring to you. You might be a “dependable, strategic planner” or “a creative professional connector.” Or, your mantra might be something like, “motivating others to do their best.”

With all the confusion these days it’s VERY easy to get lost. I’ll round up with some encouragement from Sam – “If you can garner the self-discipline to create your Strategic Objective, you will find new strength as you hold the single sheet of paper in your hand. You’ll instantly insert yourself into an elite category: literally you’ll be the one in a hundred, small business owners who has a document that outlines company identity and intention. You’ll have direction! And once you have this concise, tangible representation of who you are, where you are going, and how you will get there, you will find it uncanny how the physical world will align itself with what you have written down.”

In other words your Strategic Objective will serve as your compass and give you the strength to repair your ship and start a-sailing out of the depths of misery, into the waves of profit!

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