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Small Business

Managing Your Business

Want to forge the future of your industry? Embrace disruption

Learn how to be a "Future Maker" with expert Ryan Estis.

Fixating on your customer isn't strange—it's essential. At least that's what sales expert and Chase Business Insights Seminar speaker Ryan Estis recommends. In Culture Imperative, a Chase for Business series, Estis shows readers how to drive growth with customer obsession.

Choose what’s right for your business

Small business owners now compete in a marketplace that's incredibly transparent. Sophisticated customers have unprecedented access to information on margin and price, and their expectations are skyrocketing. Although that could mean trouble for some business owners who are complacent, those who approach this shift strategically will find amazing opportunities to disrupt established markets.

Embracing changing times to grow means that you have to look at your own habits, processes and biases. In order to be part of the disruptive shift in your industry, you first have to disrupt the way you do business.

Bottom line: Complacency doesn't move mountains. Innovation does.

I call these strategic, flexible entrepreneurs "Future Makers." The Future Maker doesn't just react to market changes. They take responsibility for making the future happen and inspire others to do the same.

For example, the food scene in my hometown of Minneapolis is booming into a fine dining metropolis with some of the best restaurants in the country. Chef Gavin Kaysen is leading the charge. As the owner of two of the top restaurants in Minneapolis, Spoon and Stable and Bellecour, Kaysen has won two James Beard Awards. Food & Wine also named Spoon and Stable “one of the 40 most important restaurants in America over the last 40 years."

Although Chef Kaysen is enormously successful, he's not one to rest on his laurels. Embodying the spirit and strategy of a Future Maker, and continuing to shake up fine dining, he's in the process of opening his third restaurant, Demi, with an even bigger vision.

Here's what Kaysen and other Future Makers all have in common.

Share a vision of an optimistic future

Future Makers see the future through an optimistic lens. Where others might see bumps in the road, they see opportunity and the potential for growth.

After working for Chef Daniel Boulud in New York City, Kaysen knew it was time to pursue the dream of his own: opening a restaurant in his hometown of Minneapolis, which was undergoing a booming culinary and cultural renaissance.

To communicate his vision, Kaysen created a 90-page culture manual for his Spoon and Stable employees. It includes service steps, standards and stories. The stories illuminate the history of the building and design thinking that went into the build-out of the restaurant. It helps employees embrace the philosophy of the restaurant, and lays the foundation for a strong culture.

By articulating his vision and passion, Kaysen is able to get his employees to invest emotionally in the business—and become the evangelists the business needs to succeed. Future Makers understand that passion is infectious. If employees are evangelists for a business, then customers soon will be, too.

Communicating this optimistic vision is critical to an organization's success. My research has consistently shown that the biggest reasons salespeople disengage with an organization is because they don't have confidence in either leadership or the future of an organization.

Unite your team around a common vision, and your organization will arrive at the future ahead of schedule.

Commit to the Three C's

Future Makers employ what I call the "Three C's" in their interactions with employees: Consistent Courageous Communication.

They seek engagement with their employees and communicate with them regularly and intentionally. They don't just hide behind the inbox, firing off company-wide missives. Instead, they make themselves available to their employees as much as they can. It's a strategy proven by science. Research shared in Harvard Business Review showed that people are 34 times more likely to respond to an in-person request than an email.

Another part of the Three Cs is an emphasis on growth and mentorship. Leaders provide regular, healthy feedback to their employees. Kaysen spent his early career seeking jobs in some of the best restaurants on the planet and learned valuable lessons at each stop.

"I was always of the mindset to follow mentor chefs and listen to what they were saying," he says. He hasn't forgotten the lessons he's learned, and he's eager to do the same for his employees what culinary legends Boulud and Thomas Keller did for him. "Mentorship is still very relevant in our profession," Kaysen continues. "It's easy to think you don't need it, but at the end of the day, how are you going to transform from cook to chef?"

As leaders, we have the opportunity to change lives, shape careers and help others realize their full potential. Leadership isn't a job—it's a responsibility. And leaders who take that responsibility seriously can make a major impact on the lives of the people they lead.

That responsibility also includes getting comfortable with a healthy amount of conflict. Future Makers are not scared of tough conversations. Challenging yourself and confronting issues in the workplace—or with a customer or a vendor—is essential.

Perhaps most importantly, Future Makers are listeners. They expect to hear the opinions of their employees, and they know that great ideas can come from anywhere. This expectation empowers employees and is key to transforming them into the evangelists' leaders need them to be.

Prepare to disrupt yourself

Do you think of disruption as something that happens to you?

Future Makers know that embracing disruption as inevitable is crucial to maintaining the growth and vitality of their business. As a small business owner myself, I know how hard this can be. If your business is doing well, why should you actively seek to change what you do?

Because past success is no longer a good indicator of future performance.

Kaysen has two of the hottest restaurants in Minneapolis. Reservations are required months in advance. Why doesn't he just cook amazing meals, write some cookbooks and pop up on the Food Network every now and then?

Kaysen understands that there's no such thing as the status quo. Your business is either growing or it's shrinking. If you don't disrupt yourself, the marketplace can easily do it for you.

So, be comfortable being uncomfortable. Welcome experimentation. "You're going to make mistakes," he says. "Own the failure. Let it build your character and confidence."

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