The Inner Game of Business, Part IV

Numbers follow. They don’t lead.

Numbers follow the actions we engage in, those actions follow the decisions we make, and those decisions follow the thinking that led to them.

If we want to change the performance of our company—whether it’s financial performance, operating efficiencies, or sales growth—we must start at the source to determine what the thinking was that led to the outcome.

My work with small business owners has repeatedly affirmed that business owners live out our beliefs about money through our business. And our actions often contradict what we say with our words.

In his book, Working Without a Net, internationally known change management consultant Morris R. Shechtman states: “There are no business problems—only business manifestations of personal problems.” In other words, when we’re experiencing a problem in our business, it does little good to address only its symptoms. Instead, we must investigate the root cause. In small businesses, this usually resides between the ears of the owner.

Time after time I’ve watched companies operated by smart, hardworking people, that deliver great products and services in large, economically healthy communities, fall far short of their potential and suffer financially year after year. Yet other companies with undistinguished products or services, doing business in economically and demographically challenged areas, thrive. It’s as if there’s an invisible hand driving the performance of the company. In fact, there is, and it’s nothing new! Philosophers, religious teachings, and even business leaders have spoken about this principle over the centuries.

The Book of Proverbs tells us, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The great Roman emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, concluded, “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind.” Mahatma Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.” Even Henry Ford weighed in when he stated, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

While few business owners will say it out loud, many of us unconsciously restrict the things we’re capable of achieving for a litany of reasons—chief among them are that we’re comfortable where we are, or because we feel we’re not capable of doing the things needed to achieve our hopes and dreams, or because we don’t feel we deserve them.

The biggest challenge business owners face isn’t in changing our company’s performance numbers, it’s in changing the thinking that lead to those numbers. This is where the struggle comes in. Much of our thinking, especially about money, is rooted in the lessons and experiences we had early in life. While none of these teachings are inherently good or bad, some of them may need to be relearned if we’re serious about changing the outcomes in our business.

If we want to improve our business numbers, then we must improve the activities that lead to those numbers. Any change in those activities will always follow a change in our thinking. And changing entrenched thinking always involves hard, internal work.

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