Jack be Nimble!

The numbers are in.  While the U.S. eyecare market contracted a bit in 2008, down a "mere" $500 million, the market share of the independent actually increased.  Congratulations!  

But the key question is "why?"  In an environment where chains of all kinds are consuming the independent (clothing, restaurants, technology, etc), why is it that the independent optometrist is succeeding?

In his latest book, Small Giants, author Bo Burlingame celebrates companies that chose to be great instead of big.  It's an interesting and worthwhile read.  And certainly our economy is full of successes in spite of the overall gloom and doom(our firm plans a 20% increase in employment in 2009).  But the question remains, why is it that many private practice optometrists are succeeding while the chains, with their more significant resources and their better access to capital, are having challenges? 

My personal belief is that it distills down to one thing…confidence.  Combined with an overall ever-improving understanding of the business of optometry, I've observed that our clients are becoming more confident…and as a result, more nimble.  Perhaps it's because they're choosing to be "great" instead of "big."  Perhaps it's because they have far more clarity of their destination than in years past.  Perhaps it's because they have better systems; better people; a better support system. 

I liken this situation to a driving experience that we've all had.  Imagine driving down the expressway and, looming out on the road before you is jam, the road is blocked by vehicles moving at a snails pace as far as the eye can see.  Just as you come upon the rear of this sea of vehicles, you spot an exit to the right.  You've literally only moments to make the decision…you quickly ask yourself, "do I get off this highway or do I stay on and hope for clearance on the road ahead?"  What do you do?

In years past, this decision would be difficult…a crap shoot at best.  But, today, we have technology in the form of GPS that makes this decision much easier.  Today, more so than in years gone by, we would choose to jump off the expressway and let our GPS guide us to our destination via a modified route…with confidence.  Isn't technology wonderful!

As leaders, we're all faced with this situation almost daily.  Our job is to look ahead.  How do we react to the jam before us?  Having a crystal clear understanding of your desired destination is like having GPS for your business.  When you combine that clear understanding with a outstanding team and support systems that you can count on, the result is confidence.  And it's through confidence that you can modify your route to your destination; you can be nimble.

Simply said, the bigger players can't seem to move as quick and end up tied up in the jam.  

So, my message is simple.  Leaders provide their teams with clear destination.  They rarely change their goals, but often modify their routes.  If you don't have a clear understanding of your desired destination; confidence in your leadership; people and information systems, figure out how to get it.  It's the secret to being nimble…and being nimble is the key to success in challenging times. 

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