Spring in Canada is a wonder to behold.

For the record we don’t put our dog sleds away and mournfully watch our igloos melt, but there is a definite air of rejuvenation and fresh promise in the air. That includes the energetic sounds of the second-most popular Canadian pastime after watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs – Spring Cleaning. The cleaning out of closets, the pruning of unwanted household items and the enthusiastic removal of stuff that’s either too old, too worn or too far gone to be salvageable.

I’ve always wondered why we don’t do this exercise as energetically when it comes to our brands and businesses.
Why, in an environment where innovation is such a coveted accolade, we don’t shed those processes, people or partnerships that hold us back and wear us down.

Why we don’t take advantage of the perfect opportunity to say “This approach might’ve suited us 5 years ago but its just embarrassing that we still use it today” If I can get rid of my favourite acid-washed jeans, I can guarantee that there is definitely something in your business that is just as ripe for the garbage heap.

I’m not talking tinkering at the edges either. I’m talking about a deep and unapologetic look at the business and asking “Why do we still do that?” or even better “Are we still getting a disproportionate advantage from engaging in that effort?”

Perhaps the issue is we’ve created too many brandcuffs around the business. Real, or imagined, constraints that prevent us from moving freely.

A legion of brand equities we couldn’t possibly consider letting go off. A forest of SKU’s that bring in some marginal revenue but we’d never stop manufacturing. Cozy and comfortable relationships with partners (and employees?) where neither side pushes and cajoles the other to be better.

IMHO the brandcuffs begin when organizations consider their mission statement an intractable articulation of how they should act in perpetuity. That what they do today is what they’re inevitably going to be doing a decade from now.

That’s why I’m always drawn to Theodore Levitt’s brilliant question “What business are you in?” because that inherently forces you to confront the core of your business. And question whether, as the market and customers evolve and change, that core needs to evolve into something else instead.

Imagine a business “spring cleaning” exercise that began with…

Is Kodak in the camera film business or the memory business?

Is Blockbuster in the video rental business or the home entertainment business?

Is Radio Shack a physical location for electronic geeks to go to tinker or the de-facto experts on all manner of electronics?

The truly smart companies understand this isn’t just an exercise to engage in sporadically. It must become a core part of their business planning cycles.

I spent many years admiring Nokia for their ability to energetically spring clean their organization. Their history is peppered with “pivots” from making rubber boots to paper products to electricity infrastructure to, at their height, becoming the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer. And then they fell victim to their own set of brandcuffs as this quote from an excellent NYT article titled “Where Nokia Went Wrong”

It wasn’t just that Nokia failed to recognize the increasing importance of software, though. It also underestimated how important the transition to smartphones would be. And this was, in retrospect, a classic case of a company being enthralled (and, in a way, imprisoned) by its past success.

I’m not denying that Spring-cleaning is dirty, back-breaking and grubby work. It’s certainly not an exercise I look forward to.

However the sense of freedom, of lightness, of being unencumbered by old, stodgy and outta-fashion items is magical.

Wouldn’t you like to feel the same about your business?

Isn’t today the perfect day to consider Spring-cleaning your brand and business?

Published from permission from Hilton Barbour Blog.
Image Courtesy Hilton Barbour.


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