Jared no longer convinces me to buy subs.

I haven't used a phone book for its intended purpose in years. In fact, I don't even have a landline in my home or office anymore.

A classified ad isn't attracting the best talent.

Successful companies understand when to find a new groove before the old one becomes a rut. Those companies not so successful stay in that rut until its gets so deep they don't even see a way out. Which organization are you running?

Years ago Subway inadvertently found a new pitch man and a new direction. Jan 1, 2000 the first Jared Fogle “Subway Diet” ad appeared, and the consumer reaction was so positive Subway shifted gears to become known as the healthy choice of fast food. Their growth has been staggering under this campaign. Founded in 1965 by Fred De Luca and Peter Buck, Subway operated for 35 years before this sudden new health direction and focus.

Today they are embracing their new direction and are able to do it with a new successful ad campaign without Jared. Why ditch the pitch man who gave you the new direction? Because the Jared campaigns were shifting from groove to rut, and Subway was smart enough to continually look for the groove.

With the pace of business and the mind-numbing number of urgent issues demanding an executive's attention, it's easy to become distracted and forget to focus on the important things in your business. Often those things in a groove are ignored, taken for granted, assumed to be functioning well and are let go until they go wrong and hit the rut. Then they hit the “problem radar,” get noticed, and only then are given proper attention.

The best way to avoid losing what is grooved into a rut is to be proactive. Many organizations that let the following three areas slide into rut status lose more time, effort and dollars trying to get them back on track than they realize. Take the necessary time to periodically inspect these critical areas in your organization to prevent them from ending in a rut.

The Pop in Your Promotion

Subway found a new direction and got out of the Jared rut. What about your ad campaigns? What is the brand you are promoting? How are you keeping that promotion fresh? Before you skip ahead because you are not a national organization with millions of dollars to throw at advertising, I want you to think about how you do promote your organization.

Promotions can include everything from a Superbowl ad to a stick pen. Your business cards, samples, catalogs, letterhead, and even the vehicles your salespeople drive are all promoting to the customer. Don't believe the vehicle is promotion? You think your customer wants to buy from someone showing up in a smoke-blowing-breakdown-waiting -to-happen-20-year-old-pick-up truck? Or, would they rather buy from someone who drives up in a modern, clean car with an air of success on it?

Whether you have an ad budget of a couple of thousands or hire Madison Ave. ad agencies for millions, you still need to be promoting your organization effectively. You think money makes the difference? Look at Burger King's self destruction of their brand — and they have plenty of money!

When it comes to promotions, most small organizations incorrectly think small because of budgets. YouTube is demonstrating to everyone that a big budget isn't required to get out a compelling and potentially viral message. Unfortunately, I see too many small companies doing the same type of promotions over and over and over, blah, blah, blah. Creativity gets noticed. Getting noticed is promotion. So get creative.

What is the message you want to get across to your customers? How can you make that message memorable? Invite employees to give you ideas. Do you have a MySpace page for your company? Do you have your video ads on YouTube? As a B2B business, are you blogging on the benefits of your products in your customers' facilities? How are you using your web site as a promotional tool? It's time to jump the rut and find your new branding groove.

Outdated Products and Services

I'd like to hear from you on what uses you've found handy for your phone books. I use one to elevate the TV in my office so I can see it over my computer screen. I no longer use them for phone numbers. I go straight to the web. If I want to get a new number, I have someone call me and I then enter it in my phone. So what are phone companies going to do when there are no more phone books and no more phone book ad revenue? Find themselves in a rut.

What about your company? What are the products and services you offer that either negatively impact your bottom line or no longer serve a purpose for your customers? Buyers want options for sure, but they can also become overwhelmed with too many options. They want some things simplified. Are you confusing your customers? Where is the sweet spot of enough options without too many? Also, how can your sales staff be properly informed and knowledgeable on a gazillion products? Specialization is critical to success unless you want to compete in the low-margin commodity markets where lowest price is king.

Review your products and services and ask yourself of each product and service: Why is this still being offered by the company? Maybe your answer is,“Because it's the biggest profit producer.” Great! So why aren't you selling more of them? How much time are you wasting on less profitable products that could be dedicated to this one? Are you offering a product because a customer wanted a bunch of those back in the 1980s? Although you still have a positive relationship with that customer, they may no longer use much volume of that item but you are afraid to stop carrying it and risk upsetting them. (Yes, this is an actual client example.)

Annually, all organizations should make part of their strategic planning process a review of every product and service to see if it still fits the mix, or needs to be polished up and delivered in a new way, or dropped from the offerings in an effort to better focus. Be prepared to show product and service usage over the last five years to look for trends during this meeting. Grooves become ruts most often when you just didn't look closely enough.

If you are unable to track product usage, this is the first place to start. An executive or business owner needs to know exactly what is selling with what profit margins; otherwise you are playing a wishing game that everything is going to work out. Wishing is for wells and if that is all you do, you will find yourself in the bottom of one. Trust me.

Fishing in the Talent Pool

A one-inch square classified isn't going to attract the best talent. A standard job interview isn't going to excite new superstars. In fact, a survey of 3,725 job seekers listed the following as the top five annoyances in a job interview:

  • Interviewer acting like they have no time to talk

  • Withholding information about the position

  • Turning the interview into a cross-examination

  • Interviewer showing up late

  • Interviewer appearing unprepared at the interview

Each one of these complaints is valid and indicates an interviewer stuck in a rut, more interested in filling a position than in finding great talent. Effective sales people can name their price, get signing bonuses and name their terms, and they still make the companies they work for come out ahead. Good managers are the same — in high demand. The interview process most of us grew up knowing had the dynamic where interviewee needed to convince the company they were worth bringing on board. In today's talent-sparse environment, the companies are the ones having to do the convincing when good talent shows up.

What if you find someone with great talent but you don't have a job opening — do you hire them anyhow? Many organizations recognize that when the right talent comes along you grab them, knowing a position will open for them eventually. What would you do? Are you thinking about short-term overhead or are you looking for the long-term investment in building a talented team? The hiring game has changed.

If you find yourself wondering why you can't get great talent, take a review of your hiring process and see if you've slipped your groove and fallen into a rut.

I am not against all traditions. Traditions such as singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” prior to sporting events, first played prior to a baseball game in 1918, playing “My Old Kentucky Home” at the Kentucky Derby since 1921, and a spine-tingling version (for this University of South Carolina grad) of “2001: A Space Odyssey” as the Fighting Gamecocks take the field all have their place. But when the song remains the same in the business world, dropping profits, closed facilities and loss usually follows.