October 24, 2006

Most people agree that companies face constant change. As business owners, we often get caught up in the immediate needs of our organizations. This can distract us from critical long-term issues: where we are today, what we hope to achieve, and which internal and external forces will impact our efforts to realize these objectives. To avoid this common trap, effective business owners should regularly ask several key questions.

Are we meeting client expectations and marketplace demands? As companies evolve, they tend to become inwardly focused, allowing success to breed complacency. Business owners can gain fresh marketplace insights by conducting a simple, 360-degree assessment. Ask key customers what they want, ask your employees how you can help them meet client expectations, and actively investigate market trends. Then carefully consider ways to address what you have learned.

Are employee objectives aligned with those of the business—and our customers? Everyone wants motivated, effective employees. Good morale, employee development and effective leadership require clearly communicated goals that lead to achievable results. Are the standards by which you evaluate employees aligned with customer demands? If half your sales team is pushing a product or service that your customers don't want, you'll be hard-pressed to achieve your desired results.

Am I on top of risk management issues? Smart business owners not only acknowledge the risks of doing business, but also strive to minimize them. Ask yourself: Am I dependent on too few customers or suppliers? Are there signed non-compete agreements in place? Am I monitoring and reacting to marketplace changes? Have I implemented risk management policies and procedures throughout the organization?

Do I have a business succession plan? Although transitions are inevitable, many business owners ignore the importance of succession planning. Whether it involves anticipating a pleasant retirement or contemplating what happens after your death, every business should prepare for changes — both expected and unexpected — in ownership or senior management.

It's important to note that these issues are all interrelated. If you continually ask these questions and work with your key advisors to develop viable solutions, you will better position your business for future success.

This article contains material of general interest and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Under applicable rules of professional conduct, this content may be regarded as attorney advertising.