Internal Work Part 1

As part of the Strategies for Success program I’ve done through Jon-Don for years, I walk the class through a thumbnail visioning exercise and ask them to paint a word picture of how they want their businesses to look in five years.

In this particular class, there were 40 or 45 attendees representing businesses of all sizes and ages, so I expected their visions to be as unique and varied as the attendees themselves. What I was not expecting was the comment I received from an older attendee sitting in the back of the room.

When I asked if anyone wanted to share the vision they had written, he raised his hand and offered to do so. He told the class that a year ago he had been pronounced clinically dead, and the only reason he was with us that day was because the doctors were able to revive him. He went on to explain that he doesn’t typically think out five years anymore. Instead, he’s grateful for and stays focused on today.

He further explained that had the doctors not been able to revive him, his widow would have inherited the business he had spent his life building, and that business was a mess and completely dependent on him being there.

His comments caused me to reflect on the whole concept of strategic planning for small businesses. Traditionally, this exercise has focused on looking to the future—whether it’s one year or ten—and trying to peer up over the horizon and paint a picture of our ideal company on some future date. This leads us to evaluate the risks associated with achieving our picture and the threats our company will encounter along the way.

In typical fashion, this is where most business owners think the hard work of growing a business takes place—with selling, managing money, managing people, and dealing with competitors and changing customer preferences.

But, after facilitating these exercises with hundreds of small business owners and their teams for over 25 years, I’m beginning to think I’ve had it backwards. Rather than peering outward, maybe we should be looking inward.

Business performance follows behavior. This is particularly acute in small businesses where the company’s performance always follows the behavior of the company’s owner and leadership team. So, if one wants to affect the performance of the company (in this case, the strategic plan), they need to start by addressing the behavior of the leader. And this behavior always starts with our thinking.

When we overlook or intentionally avoid doing the hard, internal work on ourselves that’s required to grow our business, the distant future we’re planning for our company will never materialize. Too often, we mistakenly assign the reasons for this shortfall to external forces rather than to our own behavior.

In this series, I’ll explore just four of these behaviors: Accountability, Discipline, Humility, and Perspective.

It took a life-altering event for my back-of-the-room friend to gain the perspective he needed to change his company. Hopefully, the rest of us can achieve the same thing a little less painfully.

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