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Don’t win the day at the cost of the decade

Midway through the month of December, it hit me like a freight train: high fever, no appetite, stuck in bed with zero energy. Ahh, I assumed, the flu (despite having an annual shot) finally got me. I was proud of myself for having made it that far into 2022 with three small children at home who are constantly sick, and a consistent professional and social calendar out with groups of people. So, like most of us, I huddled in bed and did my best to force crackers and water in between Tylenol and Advil. Except…by day 5, I wasn’t getting any better. On the fifth day, with a 103.7 fever, I decided that maybe my self-diagnosis was wrong, and it was time to talk to my doctor. A telehealth call that afternoon sent me straight to the hospital for a COVID test (negative) and chest x-ray, revealing a lung infection. Seven days of heavy antibiotics later, and I was slowly getting back to my old self.

Why am I telling you this story? For one, it’s not for sympathy. What I went through was rough but it pales in comparison to how others have suffered this season. Feel free to regale me with your stories too of your own illness experience (solidarity), but no need for sympathy. I’m grateful to be back and to have a great doctor. The reason I am telling you this story is because, in the days of just laying there waiting for my next Tylenol to help get some sleep, I kept reflecting on, “How did I get this wrong?”

Nine out of ten times, my self-diagnosis would be correct. All (well almost all) of the data points matched up: flu season, flu symptoms,  haven’t had the flu all year, etc. BUT what was missed was some of the underlying issues (the fever should have broken sooner, chest pain isn’t necessarily a flu symptom) that could only be picked up on by a professional (my doctor).

Have you ever sat there in your business when something happened and thought, “How did I get this wrong?” This is human nature. We take signals and infer answers, and at times we are right. As business owners, we make assumptions at the beginning of every year about how that year will pan out (Happy January 2023 by the way). We put together strategic plans, budgets, sales targets, KPIs for the quarter, etc. We look for confirming evidence, but we don’t always see all there is to see. And, it’s my opinion, that we are often thinking too short term when building these plans and budgets out.

The main lesson here is to always put yourself in the best position possible no matter the future conditions. Not only does this mean to avoid costly problems (waiting too long to call your doctor), but it means putting yourself on offense not defense. As a business owner, you’re starting 2023 off “with a blank slate” as they say. But that isn’t true. The conditions within your business have not materially changed in the last few days since 2022, simply because the calendar rolled over. The customer concentration you’re wrestling with or staffing issues don’t reset at the beginning of the year. And by the way, did you anticipate those happening this time last year when you mapped out your 2022?

This year, don’t try to win the day, at the cost of the decade. Think about how you position your business long-term.   Again, this is hard because it is human nature, in my opinion, to take in the signals and move quickly to diagnosis.  We maximize for the next few quarters but skip the maintenance of core issues.  We talk about wanting to sell our business and where we think multiples are based on a conference we went to 18 months ago, but we haven’t engaged a banker to really look under the hood and give a valuation and a plan forward. We talk about changing out that one bad leader who needs to go but delay the decision further hoping he / she will self-select out. We hire consultants to come in and implement systems and feel like we’re winning, but execution gets worse once they’re gone and we’re back to our old ways. As Warren Buffett said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

Self-diagnosed brilliance wins the day, but positioning wins in the end. Positioning requires outside advisors, requires taking a step back and getting out of the business to really think long-term, and it requires discipline. If you’re looking for help positioning your business to win in 2023 and beyond, let us know.

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