My father used to tell me, “Progress is good, but if the process of creating progress doesn’t convert into momentum, then you don’t have the right amount of strategic focus to help it become something more evolutionary!”
You cannot build and sustain momentum in an organization without being able to see the next opportunities of greatest potential, sow them, grow them, share them and then resow them into new opportunities. That can never happen successfully without anticipating the unexpected. You must identify competitive threats that could come from companies in and beyond your marketplace -- and understand how all this connects to the people who work for you as well as your customers.
To move beyond just making progress and evolve to generate momentum, people across the company must anticipate the unexpected by embracing risk as the new normal. This requires that leadership not only take actions for the betterment of the workplace and marketplace but also unleash the passionate pursuits of those people so they want to embrace that risk with you.
But to truly anticipate the unexpected and evolve from making progress to generating momentum, you need to ask two important questions: Do our people do the same things? How can we make sure they do?
If you fail to ask these questions consistently and constantly, the competition will seize the opportunities while your company focuses only on what’s in front of you. I learned this firsthand in 1997 when, after serving as a corporate officer in the food and beverage industry, I decided to start my own company with business partners in Mexico. Back then, the U.S. market didn’t understand or value the strengths and capabilities of food manufacturers from Mexico. We prepared our partners in Mexico to commit to (not just comply with) U.S. manufacturing standards and found ourselves selling millions of dollars’ worth of products to Costco Wholesale and more than 6,000 national retail grocery stores throughout the country. We began to cross-pollinate insights and best practices between the U.S. and Mexico and successfully started a licensing operation that not only expanded the importing of goods into America, but also exported American brands to Mexico.
Today, direct foreign investments from privately held companies are changing the template and blindsiding U.S. companies that have grown complacent (as Wall Street slows them down). Mexican-brand Bimbo has acquired several U.S. brands and now has headquarters in the U.S. Fabuloso Cleaning Products, another Mexican brand, outperforms Colgate’s Pine-Sol in Hispanic markets because it more authentically connects with Hispanic lifestyles through the packing, scent, colors, etc. Peru is using technology as a competitive advantage: drip-irrigation to turn deserts into farms and food exports to the U.S. Then there is Gruma, the global leader of corn and flour tortilla production worldwide. It has built 17 plants in the U.S. and is bringing its proprietary technologies with it as well as hiring unemployed American Hispanics.
I’m not saying this to be alarmist. I’m saying this because there are global brands that have embraced the innovation mentality and have the diversity of thought to compete for the opportunities, too. As the senior executive from what I consider the most forward-thinking grocery retailer in the U.S. told me, “Doing business with people in Latin America requires you to be nimble, understanding and patient. But their entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to learn and adapt far exceeds that of their U.S. competitors. They bring far better intelligence about the Hispanic consumer, which reflects in our sales. We invest in companies throughout the world and encourage direct foreign investment in Texas as it makes our supply chain much more efficient. We can’t always wait for domestic supplies to act.”
This requires more than just evolved alignment in the goals of your company, yourself and your people; it requires belief in yourself and your leadership identity, your people and your partners and customers to see the opportunities and keep moving ahead by anticipating the unexpected (for better or worse). It requires momentum -- continuous growth and development -- and a willingness to invest in people. In other words, help your people work together to anticipate the unexpected.
Let’s stop sowing the seeds in front of us. Instead, let’s use the power of our passionate pursuits to compel those around us to start growing them with an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s when we break free from conformity and stop playing it safe -- when leaders are willing to put themselves at risk and stay uncomfortable to keep the momentum going and then drive that evolutionary thinking through the workplace and into the marketplace.
The fact is, if you keep going, you not only grow and share the opportunities in front of you but you generate the momentum needed to see unseen and new opportunities more clearly, explore them and seize them -- not just for yourself but for others.
Then make sure you fuel the passion of the people who you work for and with you. They must own what they do and strive to explore endless possibilities. Your people need to know that if they see something with potential for growth, they can say something despite any real or imagined obstacles and break free from ideation and progress.
If your people have the courage to see something that can create more momentum, then that’s another huge step in helping them and you act as individual agents of change and evolve from traditional workplace limitations. You’ve now lifted your people up and pulled them in new directions and toward opportunities that maybe they never saw. This begins their journey of being able to influence the evolution of the business they serve.