While there are many reasons that small businesses stagnate or stumble, 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 determining how best to fail.

This saps energy from the business as people stop believing they can be successful.  There is no “aha” moment when this all becomes clear. But there is a moment when a small business that should be growing rapidly – but isn’t – starts to enter a danger zone. This is when the business owner or other key leadership needs to step in to try and get everyone back into the mindset of winning.

Here are seven ways to give your culture a reset toward winning ways:

Mindset1. Set aggressive but attainable goals: There’s a thin line between an invigorating challenge and a deflating expectation. Business owners – and especially hard-charging startup entrepreneurs – should realize that not everyone may share their level of extreme commitment. Sure, top performers are often inspired by stretch goals. But goals that are clearly beyond a reasonable expectation of success are even worse than too-easy goals — they can actually damage your company’s energy.

2. Avoid the “false wins” trap. 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 that lead to bigger wins. 

3. Avoid 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, clearly define what success looks like so there’s no confusing it with something that falls far short. Don’t allow energy to be expended on complex excuses and finger pointing. Shortfalls are certain; and expected. But what you want is an insightful explanation for the gap so the problem can be fixed.

4. Don’t tolerate sloppiness. The nice person in all of us wants to avoid the perception of being a hardcore drill sergeant and will sometimes overlook a cut corner, incomplete report or other shoddy work. But sloppiness often stems from simply not having enough pride in the finished product. It’s not a winning attitude. Highly successful businesses don’t allow sloppiness because they know it eventually equals death.

5. 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.

6. 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. 

7. Make a firm commitment to winning:  If you have a tolerance for poor data and a distorted view of what’s really happening in your business, you might not get a true picture until it’s too late. Don’t rationalize excuses when winning seems out of reach. Keep your commitment to making it work and to winning – to yourself and to everyone else.

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Mindset