When a once-growing business stumbles, the cause is sometimes an overlooked culprit: the company culture. Many good businesses with solid ideas, a great market and talented people start to lose their grip on growth after failing to win victories that seemed within grasp. Slowly, the win or die trying mentality gives way to deciding how best to fail.
This saps energy from the business as people stop believing they can be successful. “There is no obvious moment when the danger of failure becomes clear,” says leadership expert John Hamm. “But there is a moment when a business enters the risk zone—when challenges arise and there are no clear answers. It is at this fork in the road that business owners must intervene with specific messages and actions aimed at getting everyone back into the winner’s mindset.”
Here are seven ways to keep a culture of winning alive in your business:
- Set reasonable goals: There’s a thin line between an invigorating challenge and a deflating expectation. Business owners – and especially hard-charging entrepreneurs – should realize that not everyone may share their level of maniacal commitment. Sure, top performers are often inspired by stretch goals. But goals that are clearly beyond a reasonable expectation of success are worse than easy goals—they can actually damage your company’s energy.
- Avoid the trap of “pseudo-wins.” Everyone likes to reward small wins. And that’s great. But it becomes a problem when that’s all there ever is and everyone starts to major in minors. In other words, keep your perspective. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important, and where the wins are most needed. The danger in seeking minor wins all the time is that when everyone seeks those small satisfying moments that can be gained from simple tasks, nobody tackles the tougher jobs.
- Banish lame excuses. Every workplace has the equivalent of a “the-dog-ate-my-homework” excuse. Don’t buy it. Some tolerance is required, but there should be clear lines as to what’s acceptable and what isn’t. In other words, define clearly what success looks like so there’s no confusing it with something that is really a failure. Huge amounts of energy are expended on complex excuses and playing the blame game. Shortfalls are certain; and expected. But what you want is an insightful explanation for the gap so the problem can be fixed.
- Don’t tolerate sloppiness. The nice guy in all of us wants to avoid the perception of being a hardcore drill sergeant and will politely overlook a cut corner, incomplete report or other shoddy work. But sloppiness often stems from laziness or simply not having enough pride in the finished product. Successful businesses don’t allow sloppiness because they know it equals death.
- Discourage data fudging: Achieving and measuring victories often requires interpreting data of one kind or another. But data can be interpreted to fit whatever you want it to fit. This “editorialized data” is a big danger. Business owners, as eternal optimists, have a tendency to signal their dislike of bad news. When that happens, others will begin to shape and color the data to meet your expectations and needs. Feedback becomes corrupted and the likelihood of success begins to plummet.
- Measure what matters: The right metrics will help enormously. Look for reality – not what you simply expect. Measuring what matters is critical to successful execution. Once your plan is set and underway, you must rely on feedback (metrics) to make course corrections along the way.
- Make your commitment to winning absolute: “A tolerance for excuses, corrupt data and a distorted view of what is really happening ‘out there’ is akin to boiling a frog one degree at a time,” says Hamm. “The frog can’t tell how hot the water has become until it’s too late.” You must avoid the rationalization that occurs when winning seems out of reach and keep your commitment to making it work.
Want to try this in your business? Connect with a SCORE mentor online or in your community today!
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