Taking control of your business

With the global financial crisis affecting struggling businesses now more than ever, it is time for business owners to take back control with a ‘can do’ attitude to focus on how they can make their business a success, rather than agonise over factors beyond their control such as interest rates and the state of their super. So how can businesses regain control of their affairs for a fresh start to the new year?

So much is happening in the global economy. Meltdown, turmoil and crisis are words being thrown around on a daily basis, and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

A client recently asked for help in his small business in the leisure industry. Trade sales were drying up and he was looking at cost control and reducing staff numbers. He had real fear for the future.  When we looked at his business, he acknowledged that retail sales were booming, and he didn’t have enough staff to service this area. Further examination showed a huge untapped opportunity to partner with, and educate, his trade clients in their marketing. By doing this, his trade clients could expand their retail markets, serving a larger base without his own business taking on more retail sales staff. This is a classic win-win. He takes control of something which he can impact on; others benefit and the area he was concerned about grows as well. All this businessman had to do was to get back his internal ‘locus of control’.

The theory of locus of control was developed in the 1950s and details how people with an internal locus of control see themselves as being responsible for the outcomes of their actions and hence responsible for their own destiny. Lotteries would not be a profitable business in a world full of people with an internal locus of control. At the other end of the continuum, people with an external locus of control see environmental factors (or luck) as being more responsible for the outcomes in their lives and for their ultimate destiny. The theory was based in research, and became enshrined in modern psychology following the research by Martin Seligman in 1965 leading to the ‘learned helplessness’ model.

Seligman and his team found that dogs’ behaviour changed dramatically and unexpectedly when subjected to random feedback (pain). Some of the dogs learned to become helpless when their behaviours made no difference to the feedback they got. They developed an external locus of control: they gave up.

The outcomes of this research and its ramifications changed the face of psychology, and showed that the locus of control is largely learned, and importantly, can be re-learned. Whole programs are now focused on assisting people to take back their internal locus of control.

Mind your own business
Sometimes in business, and in our personal lives, we find ourselves caught up in life’s current, drifting into situations and getting results we had not counted on. Some time back I had a series of events impact on me and my business in an unpleasant way. Given that I generally sit at the internal locus of control end of the continuum (as do many people who own their own businesses), having external happenings dare to impact on my results came as an unpleasant shock. The events seemed to be totally out of my control, and my actions did not appear to make a difference to the results.

Looking at Seligman’s research, I would be a classic case for learned helplessness had things continued unabated. However, I know enough about the human mind and its workings to understand that when an unhelpful pattern is settling in, creating a massive break in the cycle can cause huge differences in attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and outcomes. I sought assistance, worked though what I could impact on and what I couldn’t, then took a narrow-minded focus on what I could change. The result was like throwing a pebble in a pond. I am still feeling the ripples today.

Break the cycle in a big way

My leisure industry client detailed above was also creating a vicious cycle for himself and his business. In response to the negative media stories, he was convincing himself that the sky was falling in. When challenged about his beliefs and his current available business data which actually contradicted his beliefs, he shifted his position massively. Further conversations around the same subject showed a historical inertia in his business to offer a larger range of products to trade clients. Reframing this meant that he could acknowledge that the current market conditions rip up the history books. No business person alive today has been in the market we are currently in. There is no history for where we are.

So, the way forward is to take control of the present and put a focus on what is happening today. Not what might or might not have been real last year and certainly not creating imaginary scenarios of what might or might not be real next year.