I’ve decided to write about a more diverse set of topics and take a bit of a departure from COVID-19 news and put my crystal ball down for a bit.  I have talked a lot in the past about how to do things better and how to pivot during uncertain times.  What I really have never covered are mistakes that business owners make.  Now let me be clear, everyone makes mistakes.  mistakes are created equal, but everyone makes them; it’s how you learn from them that makes you a better company.  In the 17 years I ran EmployeeScreenIQ I can say with confidence that I made hundreds of mistakes, some big some small and some never realized, it’s a natural part of building an organization.  The intent of this article isn’t to shed light on things you’re doing wrong, but more so an opportunity to learn from ones that have already been made.   

1. Your only “strategic plan” is to grow.  I’m going to use an ancient term here, one I learned early in life, that term? DUH!! The goal of any business is to grow, but growing without a plan is the downfall of most organizations.  Some of the best business and product ideas have failed miserably simply because they have no plan beyond just making more money.  Part of any growth plan includes  a strategic plan on how they’re going to get there.  Can you imagine a COVID vaccine with no plan for manufacturing or distribution, that is just like a business that has no plan for scale, a great product with no chance of survival. Creating a 1, 3 and 5 year strategic plan is imperative to the success of any business.  How much do you want to grow? How much marketing will it take? How many salespeople will you need and what are their Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)? How many people will you need in each department to sustain the business? Can your systems handle it? Does HR know the goals so they can begin sourcing candidates to fill those positions? I can go on and on, but it’s sort of like a large Gantt chart where certain things have to happen in a certain order or the house of cards will come tumbling down.  I know this phrase  gets overused but “Failing to plan is planning to fail!”

2. You are not prepared to not be prepared.  I just finished a great book called  “The Psychology of Money”.  In it there was a chapter that everyone needs to read Room for Error – The most important part of every plan is planning on your plan not going according to plan!  That’s a mouthful and I prefer the shortened version “Shit happens.”  No business in the history of business has ever succeeded according to plan, there are always detours.  It’s how you and your organization deal with the “shit” when it “happens” that sets the shepherds from the sheep . (Sorry, had to throw a Pulp Fiction reference in there).  It’s very important to understand that when things don’t happen according to plan, it’s how you learn from it to prosper.  Having an opposing  view on a project or process can be frustrating, but it also allows you to hear what could or would happen as a result of your plan.  When something goes wrong it is  always a great idea to gather your leadership team and dissect all the W’s (Where, what, why) and even How it all happened.  The goal is to find  ways to avoid it or make adjustments in the future. Now, back to the book I just read.  One of the most intriguing quotes I read was “Things that never happen, happen all the time!”  Are you ready?

3. Don’t “yes” yourself into a corner.  We made this mistake at the beginning of EmployeeScreenIQ several times.  A big new client wants this, the answer is YES.  A new prospect asks for something you’ve never done and of course, the answer is YES again.  The moral of the story here is that you can’t say YES to everything and more often than not you are not doing them a service but setting them and yourself up for failure.  Everyone wants new revenue, but sometimes it’s just not that simple.  Most product-centric organizations succeed because clients have options, but those options are limited to what the company can provide and still maintain a high quality of service at a profitable price point.  This is successful because the products are tested to the operation and the operation has a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with different areas of the business.  OK, it’s not as simple as that but you get the gist, forcing the operation to take on a set of untested procedures for one client can be a recipe for disaster.  It’s ok to have a new product or new set of procedures but it’s never a good idea to say YES to one before knowing if it’s something you can execute and/or scale. 

4. Mismanaging or over-managing key employees.  Putting the wrong people in the wrong places doesn’t do anyone any favors. A great company doesn’t succeed without great people. You may think as the CEO that the buck must stop with you, but that is only true in some situations.  Over managing employees and not listening to outside opinions won’t only kill innovation and independence, but will also wear out your key people pretty quickly.  Are you a leader that must approve every facet of your company or do you give your people a long leash to try new things and succeed or fail on their own?  There has been some fantastic talent making great strides at good companies only to get burned out because they have zero atonomy.    Leaders need to get their hands out of things and let their employees grow and fail on their own.  You will lose great talent by not allowing them to grow.  Not all employees are equal and to be blunt, some just aren’t good at their jobs.  It is important that all employees are keen to sustain and grow the vision of the organization but it’s equally as important to make sure that vision is aligned with the leadership of the company. 

5. Don’t overvalue yourself or your company.  Make no mistake, your competition is calling your clients every single day.  Eventually, they’re going to listen to them and you need to keep asking yourself if you are still delivering value to that customer.  Now I understand that the word “value” has many meanings and can be defined in many different ways.  The question is are you defining that value or are your customers?  You may think you are but in reality, you may be blinded by your own success and theirs.  You may feel that success is delivering on your Service Level Agreement (SLA) and you may be correct but does that mean you are doing it well enough?  My business partner Les used to say that companies begin to fail when they fall in love with themselves and get comfortable.  Don’t get comfortable, in fact, don’t ever be comfortable.  True leaders and CEO’s consistently feel like they can do better for themselves and their clients and are never complacent. This is one reason I write so frequently about innovation and how important it is for it to come from our industry and not the outside.  Someone is always trying to build a better mousetrap so make sure your reaction to this isn’t reactive. 

Now, no business on the planet has ever only made five mistakes and I promise you that I’ve made hundreds.  The five above are in no way the biggest or the smallest, but mistakes that I wanted to highlight because I see them most often.  It’s hard enough to learn from your own mistakes let alone others, but learning from these is a good start for you.

I hope you enjoyed and stayed awake.  If these or other articles are interesting to you and you’d like to learn more, hit me up!