Inc Magazine recently had an article of 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask. As you might imagine, there was a lot in the list that have relevance to non-profit organizations.
Some deal with topics that continually arise in conversations about the arts like relevance; allowing a pursuit of funding to divert the organization from its mission; and what metrics are being used to define success.
1 How can we become the company that would put us out of business? -Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group
2 Are we relevant? Will we be relevant five years from now? Ten? -Debra Kaye, innovation consultant and author
52. If our company went out of business tomorrow, would anyone who doesn’t get a paycheck here care? -Dan Pink
6. What trophy do we want on our mantle? – Marcy Massura, a digital marketer and brand strategist at MSL Group
Massura explains, “Not every business determines success the same way.Is growth most important to you? Profitability? Stability?”
7. Do we have bad profits? -Jonathan L. Byrnes, author and senior lecturer at MIT
Byrnes explains, “Some investments look attractive, but they also take the company’s capital and focus away from its main line of business.”
8. What counts that we are not counting? -Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and head of global hospitality for Airbnb
Conley explains, “In any business, we measure cash flow, profitability, and a few other key metrics. But what are the tangible and intangible assets that we have no means of measuring, but that truly differentiate our business? These may be things like the company’s reputation, employee engagement, and the brand’s emotional resonance with people inside and outside the business.”
Others focus on customers/audiences.
10. Are we paying enough attention to the partners our company depends on to succeed? -Ron Adner, author and professor at Tuck School of Business
Adner explains, “Even companies that execute well themselves are vulnerable to the missteps of suppliers, distributors, and others.”
17. Which customers can’t participate in our market because they lack skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions? -Clayton Christensen, author, Harvard Business School professor, and co-founder of Innosight
21. Who, on the executive team or the board, has spoken to a customer recently? -James Champy, author and management expert
32. Do we underestimate the customer’s journey? -Matt Dixon, author and executive director of research at CEB
Dixon explains, “Often, companies don’t understand the entirety of the customer’s experience and how many channels may have already failed them. They don’t understand that the customer goes to the website first, pokes around but can’t find the answer to their question, and then tries to start up a chat with an agent, only to get frustrated by the delayed response. Only then do they go to the Contact Us tab and call. From the company’s perspective, the call is square one. The customer sees it as, you’ve already wasted 15 minutes of my time.”
62. Do we say “no” to customers for no reason? -Matt Dixon
You may have created your customer policies at a time when you lacked resources, technology wasn’t up-to-snuff, or low service levels were the industry norm. Have those circumstances changed? If so, your customer policies should change to
Number 17 needs no explanation. I actually was somewhat reassured by the fact that for-profit business faced the same challenges about education/skills, access and wealth that non-profit arts organizations do.
I was drawn to #32 because it is so easy to be unaware of all the hurdles a customer faces when dealing with you.
Number 62 also strongly grabbed my attention because it emphasizes the need to constantly revisit and revise your policy. It had particular significance to me because I recently discovered that a practice I assumed was due to technical limitations was erroneous, and was in fact just a matter of history and habit. As a result, we will be selling new subscriptions two weeks earlier this year than in the past.
Number 10 I read both as not giving customers what they need to have a successful experience, but related to partners and colleagues as well. Are you paying attention to the health of businesses you depend on as well as that of other arts organizations in the community? Even if they are doing fine, could more clearly communicating your needs to them lead to a more efficient outcome for both of you? Could mutually beneficial partnerships result, strengthening both organizations?
Some of the question were focused on strengthening your company internally in terms of thinking, planning and self/employee development.
3. If energy were free, what would we do differently? -Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
Hsieh explains, “This is a thought experiment to see how you would reconfigure the business if you had different resources available or knew that different resources would one day become available. Another question might be, what if storage was free? Or what if labor costs half as much or twice as much?”
9. In the past few months, what is the smallest change we have made that has had the biggest positive result? What was it about that small change that produced the large return? -Robert Cialdini, author and professor emeritus of marketing and psychology at Arizona State University
16. If no one would ever find out about my accomplishments, how would I lead differently? -Adam Grant, author and professor at Wharton
22. Did my employees make progress today? -Teresa Amabile, author and Harvard Business School professor
Amabile explains, “Forward momentum in employees’ work has the greatest positive impact on their motivation.”
37. Am I failing differently each time? -David Kelley, founder, IDEO
The last one about embracing failure is a familiar topic of discussion even in the arts community today.
These last few (though there are many like them in the article) remind business leaders to be introspective of themselves and their companies. It is easy to overlook things like the change that made the biggest impact, or even attribute the impact to something else unless you stop and think about the true source. Certainly paying attention to progress of employees is one way small changes can manifest as big impacts over the course of a few months.
Perhaps the toughest of these last handful of questions is #16 because it challenges you set aside your ego in order to be a more effective leader.