A pattern of inaction

Aug 05, 2016

If you are you stuck in neutral, break out of the rut by asking questions, altering your approach, and accepting the possibility that there may be a problem.

Some of us have a hard time taking action when it’s needed. Sometimes we deny that we even have to take action. I’ve been a consultant for a local business for most of the past year and have been frustrated by my client’s lack of action. Granted, I’m a consultant and don’t have a financial stake in the business, but I treat the company as if it were my own and I don’t like to see a company fail. This company is on the path to failure due to the owner’s pattern of inaction. The owner opened the business two years ago with a very small capital investment, no line of credit, and no business plan. As a result, the owner has no financial resources to rely on during the negative-revenue months. The business’ gross revenue has increased by less than 5% in the past year, but its net revenue has decreased by more than 10%. In short, the company is losing money almost every month, but the owner has not done anything to correct the downward spiral. Like some firm leaders in our industry, this owner acknowledges that significant changes are needed to save the company, but won’t take the steps necessary to enact those changes. It’s frustrating for me, but even so for the employees, because they can see where the company is heading. The owner has never had a business class and everything about operating a business has been learned through trial and error. There are some firms in our industry that started the same way. They began with a great idea, but never felt they had the time to obtain formal training on how to actually lead a company. Now, after the firm has expanded, they’re too busy to take the time needed to understand how to run a business. They, too, are stuck in a pattern of inaction. Despite my best efforts to explain basic accounting principles, the owner can’t understand where the money is going. There’s an antiquated process for analyzing monthly cash inflow, but no accounting of the cash outflow. Some of the accounts payable are in arears by more than 18 months. It’s like a train barreling down the tracks and the engineer is ignoring the flashing lights warning that the bridge is out. Hopefully, your firm isn’t in such dire straits, but how do you know if you’re stuck in a pattern of inaction?
  • Your first response to any difficult question is “I don’t know.” The business owner I work with loves this phrase. When asked why a specific action was taken, the response is, “I don’t know.” Where are your 2015 receipts? “I don’t know.” How much are you paying for marketing? “I don’t know.” For the owner, it’s easier to deflect uncomfortable questions with a simple brush off, because any other response would require action.
  • You would rather make no decision than to make a bad one. A bad decision typically leads to bad results, but the assumption is that if you don’t make a decision, nothing can go wrong. In reality, quite the opposite can be true. The decision to not make a decision can lead to lost proposals and missed deadlines, resulting in lost revenue.
  • You refuse to accept, or you dismiss, bad news. Accepting bad news typically prompts people to take some action to correct the problem. If you don’t accept the bad news, why would you have to act? This is the equivalent of covering your ears and shouting, “I can’t hear you!”
  • You don’t get involved in details when numbers and statistics are concerned. Looking at “the big picture” and “staying out of the weeds” can be useful tactics if you’re trying to avoid becoming a micro-manager, but not if you’re trying to keep your firm on track to meet its strategic goals.
Becoming a deliberate leader can help you break the pattern of inaction.
  • Replace the phrase “I don’t know” with “I’ll find out.” By making this statement, you’re committing to others that you’re going to look for an answer or solution to an issue, but you have to take action or you’ll lose credibility.
  • Start with the premise that there may be a problem. When you accept that there may be a problem, you’ve already committed to taking the necessary steps towards improving your business.
  • Don’t accept the phrase, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” unless it’s been documented as the best, most efficient or effective way of accomplishing a task. Accepting that phrase in any other circumstance is just another way of saying, “I’m too lazy to come up with a better way of doing things.”
  • Attend a business management program with other peer company leaders. These types of events are great opportunities for learning from other peoples’ successes and failures. When confronted with a similar situation, you’ll already have an idea of what does and doesn’t work and will boost your decision making confidence.
Doing nothing is easy, but it will lead to problems, much like taking your hands off the steering wheel while driving on the highway. My client’s company has much potential for growth, if only the owner would make some decisions to put the company on track for success. Take a look at the decision points in your business. Are you actively guiding your firm or have you fallen into a pattern of inaction? Zweig Group has a number of options to help you break out of this distructive pattern. Bill Murphey is Zweig Group’s director of education. Contact him at bmurphey@zweiggroup.com. This article is from issue 1158 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.