A good pilot has his head on a swivel. He is constantly scanning his instrument panel as well as the skies around him. There may be other airplanes in the immediate area to avoid. Maybe there are TV towers or smokestacks to miss. Engine performance gauges must be monitored, and navigational displays are critical to comprehend. All of this can be summarized in two words . . . situational awareness. Without situational awareness we are more vulnerable to physical dangers around us. A lack of it can result in an auto accident, stepping off a curb and breaking an ankle, or starting a fire when the grill is too close to the house.
In the entrepreneurial world, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold. Now, you may be wondering how this concept applies to business situations. It has less to do with physical proximity and more to do with possessing a sixth sense about a multitude of factors. As entrepreneurs we can attain a much higher degree of success as we develop our entrepreneurial awareness. For example, how well do we sense what is happening in our marketplace? There is more to this than just crunching numbers. The key is to look behind the empirical data and understand what is truly happening. Here is a simplistic illustration. A quick look at market share might show that our firm is way out in front of the competition. And yet, we know that a start-up company has won three of the last five contracts for which we have competed. Not enough to move the market share needle but could signal trouble down the road. Situational awareness would have us take immediate action to understand why they are winning, and we are losing, and then do something about it.
Situational awareness from an entrepreneurial perspective involves a deep understanding of our customers and what makes them tick. Customer satisfaction surveys help in this regard, but we may need more than data. In person meetings are the best bet for getting a good read on our customers. If not in person, the next best option is a phone conference. At the root, we are looking for little tells that might indicate whether our customers are 100% in our camp. We encountered a situation a few years ago where we thought our client was totally satisfied with our services. Our team was convinced that we had performed as well as or better than expected. And yet, I had a gnawing feeling that something was amiss. When we dug in deeper, we learned that the client was hiring a competitor. The reason had nothing to do with our performance and everything to do with the fact that a corporate decision had been made to consolidate its business to a national company. I have always wondered whether we might have saved the business by doing some things in a radically different manner had our situational awareness enabled us to act sooner.
Finally, we must keep our finger on the pulse of our team. Are we on the lookout for signs of tension, boredom, or anxiety? It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day chaos that we all experience and miss the signals that are flashing relative to our team. Perhaps an outgoing team member who normally participates in company activities gradually pulls back and is less gregarious. Without situational awareness, we could easily overlook that this individual is headed for the exits until it is too late. Realizing this sooner might have given us a chance of resolving whatever issue is causing our teammate to look elsewhere.
Situational awareness at the entrepreneurial level requires a certain degree of intuition. But even more important is our being intentional about having a deeper understanding of that which is happening around us. Then we are less likely to unwittingly step off the cliff and into the abyss.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.