Business Threats and How Leaders Adapt

Business threats are everywhere. At the beginning of the dot com bust years ago, an acquaintance, I’ll call him Sheldon, asked me about a business problem he was facing. His company specialized in consulting services for a large-scale e-commerce product that had just gone belly up. Many organizations had deployed this product so there were maintenance contracts that Sheldon’s company could take over.

We met for lunch to talk about his woes. He opened the conversation with this statement:

“So, if you know any companies that are looking for maintenance or consulting work related to this product, let me know.”

I didn’t know of any. So, we discussed ways he could find organizations that had invested in this expensive product and ask to take over their maintenance efforts. That would sustain his company – at least for for a little while.

The Perils of Ignoring Business Threats

To me, the writing was clearly on the wall. He was encountering a major business threat. The fact that the product company was going out of existence meant that the organizations who had invested in it would eventually switch to something new. Any support contracts that Sheldon could get would be short-lived. Adapting to change had to become top priority.

We spent a lot of time talking about ways to adapt his business. If he didn’t adapt, his business would become extinct. He had one really big thing going for him: several smart people on his staff.

When you provide consulting services, you need to stay on top of the latest trends, tools and so on. The product they specialized in was on its way out, but his team could learn about newer products and offer consulting services for those. Adapting to this business threat was going to be critical if he wanted to survive.

Sheldon appeared to be absorbing a lot of the dialog. We outlined his next steps and I felt good about his prospects.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, he closed with this comment:

“So, if you know any companies that are looking for maintenance or consulting work related to this product, let me know.”

I was floored. What did he just say? He was still focused on the dying product. Didn’t he listen to everything we talked about?

Soon after that lunch, Sheldon and I lost touch. The product he serviced is a distant memory to those who bought it. He is now working for another company, no longer running his own.

Sheldon ignored all of the warning signs. He wasn’t committed to adapting his business so the markets ate him up with his head still buried in the sand. His inability, or unwillingness, to react to imminent business threats also cost his staff their jobs.

Get Help to Spot the Warning Signs

Reacting to business threats is the difference between a thriving business and one that will die. Sometimes, we aren’t the best ones to see threats to our businesses – or careers.

Stay in touch with colleagues you trust and ask them these three questions periodically:

  • What threats do you see to my business?
  • What changes do you think I need to make to stay competitive?
  • Where do you see my industry going in the next 2-3 years?

Don’t ignore their comments. They could be sharing red flags just in time. Be sure you acquire the skills you need fast so you can adapt to the market before you become a casualty to changing tides.

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