I’m sure you have heard the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I once heard that a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.
Over the years, I have found by using metaphors to help illustrate a point, light bulbs go off (a metaphor for deep understanding) with the individuals I am talking to. It was in this spirit that years ago I saw the changing business environment and began using the apple orchard as a business metaphor to help people understand what was required in this new economy and new market.
Five or 10 years ago there was an abundance of business and an abundance of prospects. It was like being at an apple orchard where there are so many apples, you simply grab a basket and just scoop apples off the ground.
Then, as market conditions began to deteriorate, the apples were not just falling under their own weight; we needed to get a ladder to reach up in the tree to pick the ripe apples. Over time you needed to climb higher and higher and then enlist the help of others to harvest the apples that were much higher and tougher to reach. It became a team effort.
How’s Your Orchard Performing?
This simple metaphor helps most of us understand not only how a business environment can get more difficult, but also how new strategies are essential for success.
While we may want to find some new metaphors to describe today’s business conditions, I think the apple orchard metaphor still applies.
We have eliminated the less fit pickers who could only scoop the apples off the ground. We have invested in a few ladders, namely marketing tools, to reach higher by necessity.
We have been pushing our top pickers — our A players — to do what two people used to do in the past. As we begin to see some positive signs in the economy and the phones are ringing on their own in most businesses, we need to position the business/team appropriately.
Using the apple orchard metaphor, there are some good lessons to help guide our thinking. If you are beginning to see the blossoms come back on the lower hanging branches, then you may want to bring back the right people to supplement your top performers or let the top performers take advantage of some easier picking.
USA Today recently conducted a survey that found approximately 30 percent of your team members will leave you when the economy gets better. The loss of top performers can really set you back. You may also want to begin to celebrate your upticks a little more too.
While the sweat and hard work has paid off and helped your business survive, now you need new ideas and strategies to grow your business. Most businesses have made some profit in the last few years primarily from cutting costs (not growth or investment).
Your future healthy profits will need to come from doing more, not from squeezing an extra nickel out of a dollar. I am not advocating getting sloppy (on the contrary, I believe in investing more time into training the blocking and tackling so to speak), but I do believe now is the time make your orchard strong so it can provide a stronger crop soon.
There have been many lessons over the last few years. Some of these lessons have been strong wake-up calls. It, however, is important that you do not stay in the mode of operating in scarcity. This can be just as dangerous as not reacting quickly enough to trim your business five years ago. If you are positioned for appropriate growth and monitor your progress closely, not only will you be more profitable but you will also sleep better at night.
In closing, try to find the metaphor that helps you understand. With the apple orchard we not only understand what happened with the drought, but we also can understand what we need to do in the recovery.
Today’s business environment is similar to an apple orchard. By selecting and using the right tools and investing in the right people, your business could experience bushel baskets full of success and profits.