Understand your business context

 In Blog

When was the last time you were a patient visiting a new physician? You likely had a complaint — something bothering you — that was compelling enough for you to schedule an appointment, surrender your copay and deductible, and potentially commit to follow-up appointments, diagnostic tests, procedures, and medications. Your complaint may have been related to an underlying health problem unknown to both you and your doctor. Your new physician listened to your complaint, but hopefully didn’t stop there: If she was good, she used her knowledge and experience to ask enough of the right questions to understand what was really going on with your health before she recommended treatment.

Understanding the context of a patient’s complaint can be at least as important as acknowledging the complaint itself. And this phenomenon is hardly unique to medicine. Software pioneer Watts Humphrey eloquently summarized it as follows:

If you don’t know where you are, a map won’t help.

When we start a new job or engage with a new client, we need to discover the context in which we are operating. What are the relevant facts — stated and otherwise — to consider in order to know where we really are?

Every company, business unit, product, and team operates its own unique context. Completely understanding context at each of these levels entails an impractical amount of information-gathering and analysis, so we use our experience to prioritize gathering the most relevant information and performing analysis that is easily accessible.

One of the most relevant elements of context is what Michael Watkins, in his excellent book The First 90 Days, calls the situation of a business. Watkins uses the mnemonic STARS to describe five typical business situations:

  • Startup. Creating a new company, business, product, or team from scratch. Defining the market, the customer value proposition, and the go-to-market strategy are critical to success.
  • Turnaround. Taking a group that is recognized to be in big trouble and working to get them back on track. Successful turnarounds hinge on focus: Paring the business and its product portfolio back to its essence and cutting deep enough to restore profitability without impairing the assets.
  • Accelerated growth. Putting in structures, processes, and systems that will allow a fast-growing business to succeed. Fast-growing businesses need to ensure that their organization stays aligned with their strategy, and they frequently need specialized expertise to enable quick decision-making.
  • Realignment. Addressing emergent threats to a successful business before it becomes a turnaround. Many times key stakeholders do not perceive these threats until it is too late, so the table stakes in a realignment are a clear, well-articulated assessment of the threats to the business, the data to back up that assessment, and an action plan.
  • Sustaining success. Tuning and improving a business that is already successful. Training team members, providing coaching and mentoring for high performers, and finding ways to optimize revenue are all important tasks for leaders of successful businesses.

We’ve developed playbooks for each of these situations. In each case, we tailor our approach using other relevant contextual details. Stay tuned to learn more about our approach.

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