Skip to main content

Edition 102 – Traffic

I was driving into the Sydney CBD a few weeks back on the M5. As per usual, the somewhat smooth flow of progress came to a grinding halt at the King Georges Road on-ramp. From there, all the way through the M5 East tunnel, along Southern Cross Drive and into the Eastern Distributor, it was a painful crawl.

I was doing this once. I’m sure there were people around me that do it every day. They don’t think about alternate routes, alternate times to travel or different modes of transport. I’m certain that there were people in that conga line of traffic that don’t stop and ask themselves why they’re doing it.

As I’m sitting there, gazing out over the raised bonnet of my Ford Falcon XR8, it came to me. Every day I see family businesses that themselves are stuck in traffic. They’re stuck in their own traffic.

They keep doing the same thing every day and not change a thing about the product or service they’re producing. They don’t evolve it and plenty of businesses that start out vibrant or innovative become sideline observers to the commoditisation of their industry.

They stick with the same process they’ve engaged in to produce that product or service. They fail to stop and consider whether there is a better way to build a widget.

They keep employing the same people and putting up with mediocre results merely because people have been part of the organisation for so long. They don’t stop to think, do these people in my organisation today contribute to its growth and potential commensurate with their remuneration or the experience they retain?

They keep dealing with the same customers who are poor payers, constant whingers or demanding nuisances. Some are all three! They don’t stop to consider who else could be their customers and how to go about engaging with those new potential customers.

As a result, these family businesses get sluggish. They crawl along, sometimes at a snail’s pace, generating average profits at best. At worst, they’re on the road to financial oblivion.

Much like the traffic on the M5, the only reason any of these businesses finally shake themselves out of their comfort zone and change course is when they come across a major disruption. A car crash somewhere on the motorway. A breakdown in the M5 East tunnel. A major power outage that shuts the tunnel completely. It’s only then that the drivers in peak hour hell decide to search for an alternate route.

Similarly, I’ve observed plenty of family businesses over the years that have done nothing until they have been spurred into action by a major event impacting their business. The loss of a major client. The withdrawal of a bank’s line of credit. The impact of a new competitor who does what you do, only better, cheaper and faster. A catastrophic health event for a key member of the family. Or worse.

In your family business, are you stuck in traffic? Is your business crawling along, making little progress? Is there a car crash up ahead that is blocking your progress? Or are you yourself a part of the impending wreck?

This Week’s Tip

What is the thing that scares you the most in business? Now, if that happened to your business today, what would you have to do now to ensure survival, let alone prosperity?”