Running a business is a marathon, not a race. When I was running my Inc. 500 company, there were times I could have made a big splash in the marketplace, closing deals that would have raised my company's profile and put cash in our coffers. After consideration, I often walked away. People questioned me. My company was doing well – why not capitalize on the opportunity? But I stuck with my gut. I was playing the long game.
When business is booming, it's tempting to jump at a chance at the next big thing. It's also easy to get lazy and start to cruise by on past success. Those opportunities for my company did not fit with our long-term strategies and goals, and would only be a distraction. The lessons here are applicable in any business. The economy is humming, and things are generally good. How can leaders ensure continued success in their companies? How can a company maintain a high level of performance while also preparing for the unknowns of the future?
Here's how to learn from your accomplishments, while preparing for what may come:
1. Thank your lucky stars.
No matter how hard you work, there's always an element of luck in success. It's a sobering reality: no matter how careful, precise, and thorough you are, you cannot control all outcomes. The key is to make the most of it when it comes your way, but not rely on it when your hot streak ends. You need to prepare as if bad luck is right around the runway corner. Be grateful for what you've achieved, and enjoy your accomplishments. Just always remember that success can be fleeting if it's not nurtured.
2. Be selective.
Don't jump at the first opportunity that comes your way. Saying "no" may seem counterintuitive to an entrepreneur or leader, but sometimes it's the best answer. You need to keep your long-term goals at the forefront. If the deal won't bring you closer to that end, you need to think carefully about proceeding.
3. Analyze the near-misses.
As a leader, you need to be aware when things almost go wrong. This requires some honest self-evaluation. What happened that disaster so nearly struck? How was it avoided? What else could have gone wrong? Are there similar situations where this could arise, or similar workflow that is implicated? It's a worrier's dream job: find all the ways it can go wrong. Figure out how to prevent them, and make sure solving one problem does not cause another.
4. Don't get complacent.
5. Get a fresh perspective.
Your analysis of the good and bad in your company needs to be both internal and external. In your own company, find an internal investigator who can be honest, even when the truth hurts. Make sure they identify potential problem areas, and have them make recommendations. Moreover, you need an outside expert to conduct an independent analysis. Third parties are able to identify problems you can no longer see – problems which may be nearer than you anticipate.
6. Plan for the inevitable.
Something bad will happen some day, no matter how many precautions you take. Prepare for it now, thoroughly. Also make sure you're ready to learn from your mistakes. You need a data recorder of some kind, and a clear outline of who should do what, and how communications should be handled. If your company doesn't have a thorough crisis plan, you're already at risk.