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Want different results? Try doing something NEW.

On July 4th there were more than 60 people shot, and 9 killed in Chicago. I don’t know about you, but that seems out of control to me. 60 people shot? This wasn’t some 110º day with tempers flaring. How can this much violence erupt on a holiday weekend?

Stop doing the same thing expecting different results!

I found this quote from Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy very telling:

“Going into a holiday weekend like this, we obviously had a plan – [it] included putting hundreds of more officers on the streets at the times that we needed them and in the places we needed them. What were the results? The results were a lot of shootings and a lot of murders unfortunately.”

Listening to that quote I can’t help but think, “So, Superintendent, how’s that working for you?” Putting more police on the streets seems like the same measure we’ve been using to control crime for decades — but clearly, that plan is not working. The actions that the police took were disconnected from the results that they wanted to achieve. They spent a lot of money in salaries and overtime and they still had record levels of violence.

To link solutions to urban violence with challenges in your small business may be a bit of a stretch. But I’m no one to shy away from a challenge. How does this same dynamic — of expecting our actions to have different results — work itself out in our small businesses?

Are there actions we take — over and over and over again — that don’t produce the results we expect, and yet, we keep taking those actions anyway? Do we have situations that are out of control and we can’t seem to find an alternative solution? I can think of a few off the top of my head…

Grabbing back the wheel

You are lucky to have competent staff members. You appreciate them, but there are days when they drive you nuts! You’ve assigned a task to them, but they don’t seem to get it; or they started working on it, but you’re just not confident that they are making good progress. It’s not clear that another conversation about this is going to make a difference, so you grab back the wheel and decide to do it yourself. It’s just going to be easier!

Let’s look at this “solution” more closely. Are you really getting the results you want? Yes, this project gets done. But what about the next one and the one after that? What you are doing is training your staff to make a half-hearted attempt at a project knowing that you will just take it back! Or worse, someone who is genuinely putting their best efforts into a project gets demoralized when you grab back the wheel.

You are going to have this feeling again. What might you do differently? What if you express your frustration to the team member? What if you said, “I want you to succeed at this, but I can’t see how that is going to happen. How can I help you? What do you need?”

Choosing to be liked instead of demanding performance

You are reviewing a client deliverable and you notice a couple of typos, then you find some analysis that wasn’t really thought through. Finally you conclude that this might be a good first draft, but it’s not ready to send to the client. What do you do? Do you send it back to the team member who sent it to you and ask them to redo it? It would mean that they’d have to stay late, and you know they need to pick up their kids… Maybe you should just fix it yourself — it would take you about 30 minutes…

Is this really getting you the results you want? Again, you are telling your team member that it’s OK to turn in work half-finished and leave it for you to finish. Yes, it’s good that your employee can pick up his kids — but now you are going to be here until 7:30 or later!

Next time, you need to send it back and make the team member finish the job. If they have to work late, or apologize to the client for the delay, then let them do that. Forcing them to face the music actually trains them to only turn in their best work.

Running on gut and not looking at the numbers

Yes, accounting is boring; and complicated. Every time you look at it there’s bad news there: taxes, rising insurance costs, the rent is going up. Yuck. Who needs it. I mean you are running the business, you know how the clients feel, which ones are paying, and you’ve got a general handle on the expenses. Why do you need to spend time with spreadsheets and quickbooks and all that?

Well, you don’t; but someone does and you have to understand what the numbers are telling that person. Growing companies are often starved for cash (because your employees are getting paid in the current month, but your clients might not pay for a month or two) so your “gut” might be telling you that everything’s going great — but you may not be able to make payroll.

Instead of ignoring the numbers, or spending the absolute minimum amount of time getting your bills in to QuickBooks, find a bookkeeper who can get the numbers in and tell you what they mean. Then sit down with your bookkeeper a couple of times a month to understand what’s happening with margin, cash flow and sales growth.

Grabbing any business that looks like it can pay

Getting new business is hard. The truth is, you hate sales. (HATE it!) So when a prospect walks in the door, you are so relieved that you pitch whatever you have to pitch and drop your rates to whatever they can pay, because hey, this is new business that you didn’t have to drag in the door.

But then they leave and you have to do the work. It turns out that it’s more complicated than you thought (because it isn’t something you’ve done before) and you likely bid it to low to start with, so now you have to go sell more to pay for the work you just sold.

Instead, get really clear about the work you are good at, enjoy, and can get paid well for. Then go out and look just for that work. You will find that sales becomes a much more pleasant experience when you are looking for folks that you know you can help instead of trying to convince folks you can help anyone. Plus, when it’s work you’ve done before you are confident in the value you provide, and the price where you can make money!

Maybe there are other situations that came to your mind — situations where you instinctively, reflexively take one course of action that, if you think about it, is really not working for you. Where might you look for an alternative path, or a different response, that would get you the results you are looking for?

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