Why the most important reason for success is staying relevant.
Why is relevance a key strategic concept; why does it matter?
Relevance drives the motivation of people and organizations; to be relevant is to be successful.
Irrelevance, on the other hand, is the state to be avoided because to be irrelevant is to be ignored by those you wish to be visible to and admired by. And being ignored is to not have a voice listened to or a place admired in the world.
Relevance in business
Successful businesses remain relevant to their customers and we can see vividly what happens when they’re not. They go out of business; they die.
Relevance is a dynamic state; it is a function of what’s going on in the the environment around you.
Irrelevance is not keeping pace with the changes impacting you; relevance is embracing them.
To maintain relevance in your business you need to skillfully manoeuvre your organization through the following set of dynamics:
- Customers’ needs change.
- New competition emerges.
- New technologies appear.
- Unexpected cataclysmic events happen.
- Regulations restrictions are imposed.
In the face of this variability, organizations must find their way if they are to remain relevant and survive.
I can’t offer any organization a prescription for survival under such circumstances; but what I can tell you for certain is that what worked for you yesterday is unlikely to work for you tomorrow.
But I can offer you my process that has been stress tested in the real world and will help you arrive at your own solution if you put in the work.
The process is pretty simple but if you do the work and trust it, you will figure out what you need to do.
The relevance question
Ask yourself ‘The Relevance Question’:
”Now that I find myself in this new reality, what do I have to do differently to stay relevant?”
Possible outcomes from asking the question:
1. Failure to ask the question and assume you can carry on in a business as usual way will most certainly doom you to failure; your organization will die.
2. Asking the question but choosing a solution that doesn’t work - maintaining an irrelevant condition - means it will take longer to recover and survive, but only if you keep asking the question and seeking more workable solutions.
3. Asking the question and landing on a workable solution right away is nirvana; relevance is immediately maintained and death avoided (until the next unexpected discontinuity hits you at which time you have to ask the question again).
The critical thing here is the mindset of understanding an organization must constantly test their relevance in the markets they serve and to have a process to do it.
Look at the business failures that have occurred and you will see irrelevance in action. Leaders either assumed what made them successful prior to their difficulty would continue to serve them well in new environments and didn’t ask the relevance question, or they asked the question and didn’t come up with a workable answer.
Regardless of the reason they failed.
Role of leadership
Leaders must take a more proactive role in assessing relevance without having to wait for a crisis to do it.
- In formal business planning sessions, rather than just ask about product life cycles and where products fit, ask about where the organization is on the relevance cycle and discuss the strategy options they should adopt to maintain or increase their relevance;
- Ensure the appropriate data gathering tools are in place to feed the discussion around this question. If you’re not continually probing where your organization is on the relevance scale — 10 = highly relevant; 0 = totally irrelevant — you can’t answer the question and hence won’t be able to take any meaningful action;
- Ask the frontline about their opinion. They will be able to tell leaders where the major customer ‘pinch points’ that signal relevance issues are and how severe they are.
- Leaders need signals that foreshadow irrelevance and the frontline are excellent sources for them. And they won’t sugar coat the truth like some managers might;
- Conduct a relevance appraisal on each of your top competitors to see where they might be vulnerable. Integrate the results into your business planning process; take action to exploit any opportunities exposed by the analysis.
Maintaining relevance should be a success and survival competency of every organization and it should be an essential element of culture.
If you’re not relevant, you’re dead (or soon will be).