In difficult times, as in good times, I think it’s important to focus on the basics. Perhaps more so.
What are the essentials for a sustainable business? I can feel a list coming on.
Firstly, be agreed on what you are trying to achieve. Knowing this can get you through the toughest times.
Secondly, believe in profit. I know this is a little controversial. Some will say it is obvious. Others will not like the idea of profit as essential.
Profit is such a emotional topic, although mostly we don’t admit that. For many it has a bad name. And on the other extreme, even those who seek it above all else might be feeling a little guilty about it now.
But for a business to be sustained, whether it has a social or a purely economic goal, profit is needed. Profit builds reserves. When reinvested it creates strength – primarily through skills and knowledge. Excess profit can be harmful. But reasonable profit, reinvested, is essential.
Beliefs about profit are often so deeply held they’re hard to shift. But unless everyone in your company shares a positive view of reasonable profit, then you really do have difficulties if you want your business to survive and meet its mission.
Thirdly, everyone involved has to have a can do/will do attitude. It’s easier to believe that if things get hard we can give up. But to succeed we have to believe there is a way to get through – even in the hardest times. And we have to believe that we, and we alone, control our progress.
This is somewhat related to understanding that fear is normal. Fear of meeting people. Fear of doing new things. Fear of failure. And most of all fear of change. Know that fear is normal, and you are part way to overcoming it. If you know it and admit it, then you can ask for help, as just one example.
Being open to learning more generally – not being afraid to look a fool, and being unafraid to duck difficult things – is part of the same skill.
I believe even the strongest among us are afraid of change. We all fear the new and unfamiliar. Some like to change the world; but few are brave enough to change themselves.
But in an ever-changing world, what could be a more essential attribute for a sustainable company or an individual?
Fourthly, do the right thing. This doesn’t mean moralising. It’s more of a felt sense. For me, it mainly means overcoming fear so you can move towards a bigger goal. It’s about knowing what that bigger goal is. And sometimes taking the time to check the goal, so that it doesn’t get too big for its boots.
It also means a sense of proportion in other ways. For most of us in the developed world, it means remembering how lucky we are even when things look bad. Most of our lives contain many good things. Remembering to be grateful for them helps keep everything in balance.
Fifthly, do what you say you will, most of the time. Avoid promising to others; but if you make promises to yourself, then keep them. It’s all too easy in times of uncertainty to let a fog settle over us. And that fog provides the perfect shield to hide away, to let things slip, to quietly drop promises – even the most important ones.
Holding on to and reinvigorating your vision is one way to dispel that fog. Another is simply not to let yourself or others off the hook.
One way we let ourselves off the hook is by failing to “bottom-out” things. To me, this means starting a conversation, but when it gets a little hard, giving up. It means failing to push through the mental pain barrier to get at the roots of a problem.
The antidote might be stopping and declaring a time-out, and admitting one is lost. With no idea which way to go.
Being right, knowledgeable and on the ball is so important to most of us that sometimes we’d rather let confusion reign than admit we are lost.
But if you are wandering around in a mist, you are unlikely to get out of it by just wandering around. You need to get a grip. Work out what you know and what you don’t. Assess your resources. Form a plan. And then move steadily forward.
Another way of saying this? Tell the truth. Not just any old truth. But THE truth. The truth that is true for you right now.
However hard that may be.