Business Bite #3: Progress Is Often Hidden

19 Feb 2023

I haven't done a business bite in quite some time so I thought I'd get back on track and start posting more business insights today :)

For Business Bite #3, I've decided to do away with the business books, podcasts and motivational speakers and draw from my personal experience. Today I'll be exploring a theme I've explored in some of my previous articles: How progress is not as it seems and can often be hidden.

Let's see!


The Nature of Progress

In my previous article, 'A Few Harsh Truths About Learning New Things', I made the following remarks about how it feels to learn something new:

  • Learning is a process with many ups and downs. Sometimes we move forward, but sometimes we move backwards

  • Often we don't know how to 'improve' with complete certainty. Sure, we might hypothesise what the 'next right move' should be but there's no guarantee that our actions will help us get better

  • Learning is slow, gradual and sometimes painful, particularly if we don't know we're improving

Source: Eyesakov2123 (2023)

I've started with this reminder because since progress is derived from learning, progress often shares similar characteristics. Like learning, progress is a gradual process with its many ups and downs, as long as we are moving in a net upwards trend. More importantly, we often don't know when we are making progress because feedback on a new change or implementation is not always instantaneous. Sure, we might implement a new product or a new feature, but we won't know if it has resulted in any meaningful improvement to the customer experience until later.

So why does this matter in business?

Simple: It all comes down to business owners needing to have patience.

Why Patience is a Virtue

If progress is non-obvious, then businesses must set realistic expectations about how long they expect to see progress and movement towards a targeted result. Often this involves waiting - Waiting to see if a product change has added a net benefit to the customer experience and if the product change itself has helped the business progress towards a specific goal.

Now, this might seem like common sense, but unfortunately all common sense can fly out the window if businesses aren't careful. If a business owner isn't seeing progress towards KPIs or general business goals, it can be tempting for business owners to throw more and more resources and initiatives to achieve that goal faster as opposed to waiting for changes to be observed, an evaluation of 'progress' to be made, and a 'pivot' to be made as deemed fit.

I know I've made this mistake before throughout my time in business. If I didn't see progress towards achieving a KPI 'now', I'd think about how many other resources and initiatives I'd need to start to help push towards achieving that KPI as opposed to waiting to let changes I had made gain momentum and flow through the business. The result: A lot of unnecessary stress on my part.

In short, business owners need to be patient before expecting to see any observable progress.

So how can business owners be patient?

The answer is simple: By sticking to a system for evaluating progress.

A Systemic Approach to Evaluating Progress

Here's how I approach change and 'progress' today:

  • Plan: Think about the goal I want to achieve, the key metrics I will monitor and the timeframe needed to achieve the goal

  • Implement & measure: Implement 1 new change (not 10) then measure it's impact through targeted surveys and/or tracking customer metrics over a sustained period (at least 3-4 weeks depending on how big the change is)

  • Evaluate: Evaluate and reconsider if any new initiatives are needed or if you should just let things run their course a little longer

I like thinking in 'systems' because it helps take the emotion out of my decision-making. I can be more logical, structured and measured as opposed to making decisions based on knee-jerk reactions. I am all for 'pivoting', but I think a 'pivot' needs to be well-considered and planned.

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I resonate with this blog so much! I totally agree that often progress isn’t necessarily obvious when you di something everyday and ‘only’ improve 1% per day. But taking a longer term view, you will see how far you have came. All we need to to zoom out a little. At the same time, the periodic reflection on ourselves and ask where am I and where will I be is also important in tracking progress and stay on track. Thanks for sharing!
Johnson Chau
I found that tracking progress is the most obvious when you look back at what you did a couple years ago. You will mostly found that you have experienced massive growth compared to your old self!