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Relevance: The Forgotten Variable

I was having a conversation recently with an executive who was struggling to get his arms around why his company wasn’t getting the results they wanted. As with any organization, the dynamics behind such an equation are complex. But through a consultative session, we were able to begin sorting through his thinking. One aspect of this process allowed one key component to emerge: Relevance.

His organization is on stable ground relative to revenue generation…but it had hit a plateau that he wasn’t comfortable with. In review, he firmly believed their KPIs were solid. Nothing needed to change on that front. He felt his leadership team had a strong commitment to sustainability and to reaching their stated 10-year vision (BHAG). As the conversation continued, I asked him: How relevant is your company? It turned out to be a key question that helped him find the missing variable to his complex equation.

Relevance is many times the forgotten variable because most leaders really do think that their organizations are relevant. There’s almost an automatic assumption that says, “Of course we’re relevant! Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here…” Or…”Our customers love us! Just look at our revenue over the past few months (or year)!”

As a result, the concept of ‘relevance’ can easily fly under the radar. We tend to think of it as a lump sum: “This” + “That” = Relevance. But it’s a multi-dimensional concept vs. a simple one. Your company might be very relevance in one area and totally irrelevant in another area. For instance, relevance defines the degree to which your organization can create sustainability. It defines the degree to which you’re able to create and innovate. It defines the degree to which your organization is poised (or not) to attract the best and the brightest talent (and it’s the degree to which you are able to retain that great talent).

During your Annual Planning Sessions for 2014, consider entertaining the ways in which your organization is relevant. When you hear your team declare that the company is indeed relevant, help them challenge their own assumptions.

  • How do we know?
  • What assumptions are we making that might be simplifying this equation?
  • What are we changing? (If nothing much is changing or if the changes noted are simplistic, then you may not be as relevant as you think.)
  • Relative to our Brand Promise (i.e., what we promise our customers will get when they do business with us): Is it still what’s meaningful to them?
  • What’s one thing we should be doing differently this year in order to increase our relevance?
  • What’s happening in the economic climate that might impact our ability to remain relevant…and what should we be doing to stay relevant in spite of the current business climate?
  • If you’re in a tight labor market, you might ask: What do we need to do differently so we can attract the best and the brightest talent to work for us?
  • Is our current business model still relevant? How do we know? Does it look like every other business model in our industry? If so, then how might that challenge our relevance?

The answer to “How relevant are we?” can be a rigorous and multi-faceted conversation. Whether you’re willing to dig into this complicated equation may be the key indicator to how relevant your organization truly is…or isn’t.

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