Here's a quick thought for you: the longer you are occupied with the survival of your business, the less likely it is you will, in fact, survive.
You are stuck in 'tense' in the sense of 'past, present or future' in that if you are looking to survive, you are not looking to thrive. What's the difference; distance. Stop what you're doing, take a step back, breathe, pay attention and think about your business, for the rest of the time you're reading at least, as a thing to be observed and separate from you. This request is, for some of you, a big task so take all the time you need. If you need to, get out of the office or at least close your door.
When I speak of 'tense' we're going to look at the life of your company and the ways you can view it, take it on and create it as its 'Biggest Possible Future' (which is where I personally love to dwell). Usually when clients come to me they're primarily concerned with the past and the now and only paying lip service to the future. It takes me a while to slow them down, interrupt their pattern and get them to think in terms of the future, in fact the bigger future that they've only secretly (sometimes even secret from themselves) been hoping for. Once we get to this 'Biggest Possible Future', however, the rest of our work proceeds at a breakthrough pace.
Past based focus - your reputation. This is important to know and is not to be overlooked. It is important to know how your clients, present and past, see you and the service you've provided to them. It's important to hear unbiased, untainted feedback on how you and your team have shown up to others and how you're seen in your industry. If you rest on a great reputation or get stopped by a poor one, either choice is wrong. You can appraise this in many ways, even homespun and simple ways, but other options are to hire an outside agency to solicit feedback via surveys, special offers, panels, etc. Of course charting your sales results is a pretty good indication too, but it's a little too fickle to base a study like this on.
It's also important not to get stuck in the past or to dwell there. Reputations are created or lost in the Present. This is the tense that calls for a 'what's happening/what's real' assessment. I want to fit this in here so don't bet upset at the frivolity of this statement but: 'the future is the result of the actions you take today', or, less prosaically put: 'today's the day'. You need to be focused on the transaction that is happening today and everyone in your organization has to be speaking with the same voice; YOUR voice. Don't get lulled into the belief that there will be lost sales, difficult customers or unpaid invoices and that they're a part of life, part of business. EVERY single interaction and sale is a chance to please the client, discover a flaw in your system or create a new opportunity. Remember that knowing what the customer wants and giving it to them is one of the cornerstones of staying current and winning the game. Being 100% Responsible, all of the time, may not be true - I mean things happen and people do strange things - but as a place to 'stand' it is the best place to maintain fluidity, stay flexible and maintain a 'response-able' stand in the marketplace. NOW is the time, NOW is when your people need to be listening, NOW is when you need to be sensitive to the future you're creating by your policies and strategies, either assumed or stated. Living into the future is only possible by giving 100% in the NOW.
The mysterious future is what's coming and most pundits say you can't predict it. Your future might be profit and it might be closing shop so people will variously tell you not to worry about it or on the other hand to work in service to it; hiring and firing, making quality and production values mainly according to building a deep bucket of profit. Well in a way they're right and in a way they're dead wrong. A future built on profit and bottom line may give you the appearance of control and the illusion of being a brilliant predictor and strategist but then the question is - why? A future that comes from keeping your nose down, watching pennies, running the business from the profit and loss statement and sacrificing to the bottom line may be responsible, solid and a way to keep the company solvent no matter what, but it can also lead to burn out, employee turnover, disengagement and a lack of passion that will eventually destroy even the best thought out strategy.
The Biggest Possible Future is one that gets created by everyone. It is outside of the safe and predictable and bigger than the 'all things being equal scenario'. It is where brilliance, passion and full engagement live. It is the vision of 'what' before the details of 'how' and is what has made all of the biggest and best developments happen. Not only has the Biggest Possible Future put man on the moon, it's moved him to the stars. It is the personal computer and the laptop, Google and iPod, Amazon and all the other ideas that were visions before they were blueprints that were created and then created their need. They are the stories people tell of how they beat the odds, bucked the system, worked for the love and passion of it and the pride that comes with the ability to point to a thing and saying 'I did that'. It is what every business should have and most sincerely lack. It is that difference between surviving and thriving.
So how do you create a 'BPF'? Start with the safe and predictable; what will you get if you keep working, apply strategies and discipline? Now, in a group of stakeholders and contributors ask each of them to take that vision and 'go bigger'; that will get the juices flowing. Then ask them what they would create in this context if money, time and resources were no option. Give them time to brainstorm and to enjoy the possibilities and don't refuse any idea, turn down or limit any offering. Then take the idea that's most in keeping of the company vision and purpose as it stands and single it out. Ask if the team could get behind it and make sure it's big enough to be a little scary. Let it sink in and let the team walk away for a while, especially if it's VERY big and just 'be with it'. Reconvene after a brief respite and start up a round table discussion on the proposed BPF.
Your job in creating the BPF is not to let them 'leave orbit' - there has to be a kernel of possibility in it and it has to be consistent with why you're in business in the first place. The bigger your team the more fear and polarity you might be facing so moderate the process appropriately. On any point that people are STUCK on just find the atom in it that they can all agree on and table all that they can't agree on as a whole. Moving forward is a good habit to get into and again we're building the 'what' here, not the 'how'.
You'll know when you've found the Biggest Possible Future when people are looking at the words on the whiteboard or flip chart with a mixture of fear, awe and the slightest smile begins to play in the corner of their lips - the 'you know, we just might pull this off' look that signals a really great idea. If you're the company leader or visionary it's not just a good idea to do this, at least once a year, it's your duty! Try it out and you'll either win or get a very practical and realistic appraisal of your team; who's in it to win and who's in it for the paycheck. Good things to know! One more thing before I leave you.
Here's my offer: I will come to you for one session, FREE, any organization, profit or not-for-profit, anywhere in the world, and get you started on creating your Biggest Possible Future. I do this because we all have a responsibility to create the biggest possible future that will support our families and our communities. Surviving is not enough; thriving is the goal. A passionate, engaged and empowered workforce is not just an idea, it's my Biggest Possible Future and I'm making it happen, no matter what. Contact me with the information below and let me know you're taking me up on my FREE offer.