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The future is coming—Are you ready?

BY Fred Miller

Business, much like living, is a balancing act between the present and the future. Focusing only on living in the moment can lead to a very bleak future. Conversely, a total focus on the future leads to poor results today. Finding the right balance is therefore essential to a good life and to good business results.

In business it is very easy to develop a total focus on today and today’s problems. In a previous job, I was faced with many problems daily. Because these “fires” were so pressing, they could easily consume all of my time. Of course, if I dealt solely with these urgent business issues, no time would have been spent shaping the future. In fact the work that was future-focused had much more value to the business, but fires could be all-consuming. It can be a case of focus on the urgent and a lack of attention on the important process of getting ready for the future.

So how does one plan for the future, while keeping the business moving ahead day-to-day? I have three recommendations to make this happen.

Dedicate meaningful time at least once every other year to long-range planning.

When I say dedicate, I mean it in the strictest sense of the word. Gather a multi-functional team together and spend some time working on nothing but building a long-range plan. Doing this off-site is worth the time and expense as it helps shield people from getting pulled into fighting today’s fires. Shutting off all external communication (phone, e-mail, text messages, etc.) is also important. Do this at least every other year to keep up with changing times. (If you have the capacity, do it yearly.) Often outside resources, such as a consultant, can help lead this process more effectively, since they are not inhibited by what has been done before and can bring a fresh perspective.

Start broad and then focus in to create a vision of the future.

The goal here is to provide a snapshot of the world and how it will be different three to five years from now. It should start very broadly and then be drilled down to your business. External sources can be extremely helpful in opening up your thinking. A perfect starting place for this work is the recently completed Future of Home Improvement Study from The Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI). This study identifies five major trends that will be reshaping the industry. The study identifies trends like “consumers in control,” what created that trend and how it is already being manifested. This understanding will help you build a vision of the future customer for your business.

Not a member of an organization like HIRI? Assign someone in your company to read the current literature on trends and forecasts of the future and have them report back to the group. Regardless of the source of the insights, make sure you paint a detailed picture that will serve as your guide through the rest of the process.

Build your plans to keep your business relevant and growing in this new world.

With the picture of the future as your guide, start asking questions such as: “What can we do to meet that need?” “How can we be more relevant to that customer?” “What products or services do we have today that will become obsolete?” “What new ones will be needed in the future?” “What are the things we need to be doing now to be ready for this new world?” Now, start building your business plans to get your company ready. This way you will be with the trends, not playing catch-up later.

Will your vision of the future and your business plans be perfect? The answer to that is clearly no. Nonetheless you will be much better off having made steps toward the future as mid-course corrections can adjust for inaccuracies. The one thing we do know for sure is that the future will come, and those that are prepared will be the successful companies.

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Kleer Lumber gains distribution through iLevel

BY HBSDEALER Staff

iLevel by Weyerhaeuser is now distributing Kleer Cellular PVC Trimboard, sheet goods and other Kleer cellular PVC building products from its Baltimore, Md., and Easton, Pa., distribution centers.

iLevel is a new partner for Kleer as the company serves the key building markets of New Jersey, metropolitan New York and other Mid-Atlantic regions including Eastern Pennsylvania, Northern Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

“iLevel is an ideal partner for Kleer Lumber because of its strong brand name, the products it represents in the marketplace and its commitment to outstanding service,” said Walt Valentine, president of Westfield, Mass.-based Kleer Lumber. “iLevel’s renewed commitment to focus on specialty product groups aligns perfectly with the core product development strategy at Kleer Lumber.”

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Construction industry loses more jobs

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The construction unemployment rate rose to 18.8% in November as the sector lost another 5,000 jobs since October, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, which just released an analysis of new federal employment data. The analysis indicates that the construction sector has been the hardest hit of any industry during the economic downturn, association officials said.

The industry’s 18.8% unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, was the highest of any industry and roughly double the overall unemployment rate. The construction industry has lost 2.1 million jobs since employment in the sector peaked in August 2006, according to the association. Since November 2009, the industry has lost 117,000 jobs, while the private sector added 1,088,000 jobs.

“The unemployment report shows construction still has not broken free of the recession that has gripped the industry since 2006,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Other than the stimulus and other temporary federal programs, it has been a pretty bleak four yours for the industry.”

The only construction segment to add jobs in the past years has been heavy and civil engineering construction, which has benefited from federal stimulus, military base realignment and Gulf Coast hurricane-prevention projects, Simonson observed. Meanwhile, residential construction has lost 79,000 jobs over the past 12 months, while nonresidential specialty trade contractors and nonresidential building — the other two segments in the nonresidential category — have lost 62,000 jobs.

Association officials cautioned that the stimulus and other temporary federal programs would begin winding down in 2011, most likely before private, state or local demand for construction picks up. They urged Congress and the Obama Administration to act on a series of long-delayed legislative bills for water, transportation and other infrastructure programs.

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