I had two experiences Saturday that reminded me of a little discussed responsibility of leaders - maintain relevance. We must not only work to stay relevant ourselves, we must help the brands and organizations we serve maintain relevance in a changing world.
I stopped by our local Honey Baked Ham store to pick up some smoked turkey for sandwiches. When I arrived, I noticed three employees and no customers. I made a comment about the long line the last time I visited. The man behind the counter said, “It must have been during the holidays.” Then he went on to say, “However the holidays weren’t really that busy either.” When I asked why, he said, “Our customers are dying, and young people don’t eat with us.” Wow!
Within 10 minutes, I was on the phone with my wife talking about what I might pick up for lunch. She suggested a fantastic local restaurant; I thought it was a great idea. However, I couldn’t go there – they don’t take credit cards -- bizarre behavior in 2014. Since I had neither cash nor check, I went somewhere else.
I don’t know if you think these stories are connected or not. They are for me. Both raise questions of relevance. The first is certainly infinitely harder to solve than the second - to challenge and change the eating habits of a generation is not the same as making the decision to accept credit cards. However, the leadership in both these businesses needs to crack the relevance code or get left behind.
Brands and organizations that stand the test of time do many things well. Chief among them, they maintain relevance. How do they do it? It’s complicated. Here are a few of the essential ingredients.
Leadership. Are you surprised? Brands and organizations don’t drift towards relevance, they drift towards irrelevance. Leaders put relevance on the agenda and lead the charge.
Listening. I don’t know how any organization can stay relevant without listening. Proactive, intentional, systematic, active listening is required. Customers, vendors, competitors and the industry can provide clues to relevance if we’re really listening.
Learning. I love the idea that learning hasn’t taken place until behavior changes. If we listen well and don’t act on what we’ve heard, have we really learned anything? I say we haven’t.
Courage. If we listen well and discover something we need to change to gain relevance and aren’t willing to change it, we’ve learned nothing, nor have we made any progress. To make the changes needed to maintain relevance will require courage - the courage to break with tradition, the courage to try something new, the courage to take a risk.
I’m not sure when I’ll go back to the Honey Baked Ham store – I hope they’ll still be there at Thanksgiving.[GLS_Shield]
How relevant is your brand/organization?