See spot. Good.
Don’t see spot. See spot run. See spot run your business into the ground.
Seeing spots is healthy. I’m not referring to ocular health. If you’re seeing actual spots, you should immediately consult your optometrist. However, if you are an entrepreneur, manager, or really anyone at any level working in any organization, you should be actively trying to find the spots that you aren’t seeing.
The blind spots.
Achieving any kind of success can be dangerous. Starting a business and realizing early success. Getting a promotion that increases your professional profile. Landing a big competitive grant to expand programming. All of those things are good things, and they should be happening in a healthy organization. However, when those things happen, we can tend to forget that we all have blind spots. There are things that we can’t see because there are things that we don’t know. And those things—the things we don’t know—are the spots we should working tirelessly to identify.
That idea can seem counterintuitive. Openly admitting that there are things we do not know isn’t natural in the American professional landscape. The old adage “fake it ’til you make it” has persisted over the years, creating entire organizations that refuse to admit they have potential areas of weakness, vulnerability, or blindness. And over time, those weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and blind spots grow larger and more dangerous, leaving organizations exposed to potentially catastrophic events.
Let me provide a concrete example. Imagine you are a young organization with an extremely talented core staff. You’ve got more work than you can handle, and you’re poised to grow significantly over the next year. What you don’t realize is that no one on your team understands how to develop a program to onboard new team members and set them up for success within the organization. So, you bring in new team members, and they have to guess at the culture. They can’t clearly communicate your organization’s story because it was never clearly communicated to them. They feel disconnected from the organization because there is no formal process to associate them with the vision and the core work, and when the pace gets too fast, they get off at the first possible stop. And then, you’re in trouble.
Situations like that are hard to spot if you’re not intentionally looking for the things that you don’t know and identifying the places your team may be deficient. It can be difficult to admit that there are things that you or your team may not know or cannot do. But that’s the first and most critical part of the process. In order for your organization to thrive, you have to protect it from all of the potential potholes and pitfalls that exist. It’s almost impossible for one person to do that. And it’s definitely impossible for any one person, or any team for that matter, to avoid those potholes and pitfalls if constantly checking for blind spots is not a part of how your organization operates.
So, now that you know you should be checking for blind spots, what do you do about it?
This list is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive, but it does outline some basic things you can do immediately to start seeing spots.
- Look for insights from everyone on your team—regardless of what their title is or how long they’ve been on the team.
No one knows everything, but everyone on your team knows something valuable that can help improve processes, increase efficiencies, or enhance productivity. And even if they don’t know any of those things, your team members definitely know how to make their work experience better, so ask them what they need, what the see, and what they’ve learned that can make the organization better.
- Constantly ask questions about your organization. Even questions you think you know the answer to.
What are we doing wrong? What don’t we know? What opportunities are we missing? What resources do we need to perform better than we did last quarter? What are we still doing that we shouldn’t do? What are we not doing that we should be doing? You should be asking these (and many more) questions over and over and over and over again, even if you think you know the answer. Your organization and the environment in which your organization competes are constantly changing and evolving. The answer that you thought you knew last year might be totally different this year. Ask. Answer. And ask again.
- Look beyond your financials for performance data and long-term viability.
P&Ls, balance sheets, and cash flow statements are essential tools that help every organization understand fiscal health. You have to have those to be successful in the long-term, but they never tell the entire story. You have to know how your team feels about the work they are doing and how that work impacts the communities they represent. You have to know how your current and potential stakeholders feel about your organization and the work you are doing. You have to know what people think when they see your brand. All of those things help you develop a complete picture of your organization’s performance, including what blind spots you need to focus on.
- Talk to and with people and organizations that don’t look like yours.
Small business owners talk to other small business owners. Minority business owners talk to other minority business owners. Young business owners talk to other young business owners. And none of that is bad—unless those are the only people you are talking to. You should be having conversations with business owners from different backgrounds and different sectors to learn what they’ve done well and see what blind spots they might have missed along the away.