It's not the economy, stupid. It's you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is the economy still struggling? Yes. Are the various government-endorsed stimuli helping? Slowly. Do the Goldman Sachs shenanigans and other depressing headlines hamper the recovery? They sure do. Are too many businesses using the poor economy as a crutch? You bet your ass.

I work with tons of companies, from Fortune 100s to mid-sized firms. Many are not performing well right now. Some of their competitors are faring even worse, downsizing to the point of obscurity or just folding up. When they go, they usually offer the same excuses: It's the economy, it's the new healthcare legislation, it's competitive bidding. They're great at pointing fingers ... except when it's time to point at themselves.

It's understandable why owners, managers and employees adopt "woe is me" attitudes in times like this - understandable, and unacceptable.

Wake up, people ... it's not the economy. It's your staff. It's your corporate attitude. It's you.

Here's a steaming cup of reality: Things are tougher than they used to be. Business is harder. Success is harder. Survival is harder. There's more competition for less business, meaning lower prices and higher customer expectations.

There are two schools of thought on dealing with such conditions. One is to do less: less marketing, less production, less effort, downsize everything. The other is to do more: more marketing, more training, more effort. Work three times harder and demand the same from your employees.

Which works better? Put it this way: If there are fewer business opportunities out there, it's absurd to think doing less is the way to get them.

This is when you do more. Pedal to the metal, baby. Marketing, sales training ... a new corporate mantra flowing from the top down. Those who do less now will do even less later, when they're out of business.

Want to do less of something? Try less stupidity. I'm completely floored by the wasted resources and blown opportunities I see, and by managers who fret about the bottom line and struggle to save every nickel while continuing to embrace the same failed policies.

For instance: Stop any marketing initiative where you can't measure your return on investment. If you can't quantify the benefit, there probably isn't one. It's a fairly simple idea, but you'd be amazed how many otherwise-smart businesspeople ignore it.

Maybe this rings a bell: Stop wasting time and energy calling the same accounts over and over and expecting better sales. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it ain't gonna turn into a swan. Get your sales team out of its comfort zone and start prospecting.

Perhaps you throw good money after bad: Stop wasting time on employees and customers who repeatedly fail you. This is business. If you're not assuming an accept-no-excuses posture, you're positioning yourself to fail.

We Americans can be so arrogant, always imagining ourselves as smarter and more enlightened than previous generations, always crowing about the technological and economic advances of the last century. But let me tell you something: As a nation of businesspeople, we can't hold a candle to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Where we have an inbred sense of entitlement--I went to college, so I deserve success--they had a built-in work ethic that shames us. They expected to work hard, and as a result, they built better roads, tougher houses, better businesses and, yes, stronger families.

Somewhere along the way, we lost that. Now, we build great excuses.

All is not lost. Today's businessperson has every opportunity to build a legacy as strong as a 100-year-old house. It starts with chucking the excuses and rolling up the sleeves. It starts with smarts.

Is the economy still scuffling? Yes. Is that a good excuse for failure?

It's not even a bad excuse.