This is Your Stress Test

By | October 7, 2011

Recently I took a doctor recommended stress test and I realized I was demonstrating physically how the world is impacting our businesses and how we need to act to be able to maintain our success in the new economy.

How it used to be.

When I first got on the treadmill life was good. It was a nice manageable steady pace. Easy to maintain without much exertion and as long as I simply kept moving I was handling everything just fine.

When the economy was robust that was how we ran our businesses. It was easy to be profitable and maintain our expected results without much stress because we understood how the business world functioned. Sure we’d trip once in a while but with a bit of time it was relatively easy to recover.

The business world for the most part operated as we expected and we had confidence in how our actions were going to deliver for us – keeping us on track moving down the road.

Changes are made for us, or are they made to us?

After a couple of minutes on the treadmill my cardiologist asked how I was feeling. Confidently, I said, “Fine, I can do this all day.” Next thing I know the elevation is changing on me and I am now walking up a steep incline.

Largely because of the impact of the speed of the internet and the globalization of business, the pace of business for most of us changed. We suddenly had to have a plethora of technology changes; we were competing in a bigger league, customers were better informed and demanding more.  The learning curve from this caused many business owners to begin feeling like they were constantly working uphill. For many executives these were not changes they were craving, these were changes forced on us like the doctor deciding I suddenly needed to be working uphill.

Businesses were excited with the new opportunities being presented but realized they had to be much more agile to work at this new pace and in better shape to be consistently working up the hill.

At this pace we need agility over stability.

Still able to manage this pace and increased incline I felt confident. My thinking was, I work out, do half-marathons, have good health measurement numbers over the years and I can handle this test. That is, until this uphill pace was increased to a new faster pace I was unfamiliar with. An external force was pushing me to perform at levels beyond my comfort zone. (I swear I saw an evil smile cross the doc’s face when he did this.)  I realized at this pace a small trip would leave to a painful stumble. I found myself working harder and realized my stability on my feet needed to be replaced with agility on my feet.

Business is going through this same shift. Stability was an important desire for decades. Remember how businesses would tout how long they had been in business? Today, people care less with how long you’ve been in business and care more about how well you are doing at this moment in time. Stock holders and customers share this view. Stability is rapidly being replaced with a need for agility – the ability to operate at increased speeds and constantly uphill.

Look at the before and after pictures.

Before I stepped onto the treadmill the doctor took a series of pictures of my heart and shortly after the treadmill stress test was completed more pictures were taken for contrast and comparison.

Businesses should be conducting comparison studies within themselves. Take a snapshot of your business from five years ago and compare it to your current operations. How do things look? Were you more profitable then than you are now? Did you feel more comfortable and confident then than you do now? Be cautious not to simply look at the numbers – they can be deceiving. For decades my medical numbers have been solidly in the normal zones for health.  Keep in mind, many businesses have died in the last few years that according to regulators and auditors were in great shape as far as numbers go.

Look at the heart of your organization. How well are you dealing with your stress test? Are you increasing you abilities and agility to operate at this new pace or are you huffing and puffing trying to maintain until “things get back to normal?” In my case the stress test saved my life with the doctor’s expertise in knowing what he was looking at and how to properly deal with what he saw. Is it time to save your business by taking that same approach and analysis and incorporating the skills of experts?  I know it’s time to take care of the health of your business.

On a personal note: I encourage my business friends over the age of 50 to consider talking with your doctor about taking a stress test. At the very least it will establish some baselines for comparison as you age, or as in my case it could also be a life-changing event.


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