Harness Hardship to Drive Growth

In the equestrian world, we have a saying, “There are two kinds of riders, those who have fallen off and those that haven’t—yet”. Until October of 2012 I went for many years in the latter category. Eventually, I joined the ranks of the former and when I did, it was a doozy. But that is a blog for another time.

When In the business environment, hardship happens….to all of us sooner or later. Sometimes it is a crisis. Take St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville for instance. They were recently in the national news for their role in an outbreak of deadly fungal meningitis stemming from tainted pharmaceuticals. While all protocol was followed and they performed heroic efforts to save lives, much of the media skewered them instead. Fortunately for St. Thomas, they have decades of strong community relations and an esteemed reputation to help them recover from this disaster. Not every organization could survive in the face of such severe trauma.

For most organizations hardships are the result of market disruptions—economic, competitive or technological. Market cycles are speeding up and business model lifespan is shortening. Encountering hardship is essentially a rite of passage now—to succeed you must be able to harness hardship. It is more than just surviving it, enduring it, and persevering; it is embracing it and the opportunities it brings.

It is my belief, crafted from personal experience with hardship multiple times over (another blog perhaps?), that hardship enables us to do more and be more than we thought possible. To harness hardship, businesses must have relentless focus on the market, identify the opportunities that shifts bring and be adaptive and agile, driving growth rather than losing share. Businesses that can’t respond to market disruption fast enough become hobbled if not erased from the market. It only took Netflix four years to put Blockbuster out of business. If you are in printing, real estate, construction or healthcare hang on—the ride is going to get rougher!

What to do? Follow the trail of some adaptive companies. For example, service industries are harnessing technology to better serve their customers in real time (read NO WAITING), a real competitive advantage born of the need to cut labor costs or improve inventory. The Dwyer Group, a franchise holding company of home service businesses, developed technology allowing customers to schedule their own service calls. Not only did this improve operational flow and cut labor costs but customers loved it!!  This was one of the many changes made as a response to the recent recession. No hunkering down for CEO Dina Dwyer; she pressed hard to find a win-win that kept her business going through tough times and thrive in the recovery period.

To win share in a mature market, differentiate the company from the “traditional” offer/service/distribution model. Look at what Zappos has done in the shoe market. If your company claims to be a customer service giant and is serving the consumer market, do they have an authentic and highly engaged presence on twitter? I recently was able to contact Comcast and get the answer to my problem by tweeting, rather than having to hold on a 1-800 or navigate through a big website. Faster and personal.

Hardships aren’t going away. We can expect more challenges in the years ahead. We need to regard them as constructive albeit not pleasant. Harnessing the learning from hardship and embracing the changes we are forced to make can drive our business to new levels of success.


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