Mistakes can often bring businesses down and reverse years of good habits, decisions, and hard work. You can let them destroy you, or you can learn from your mistakes, alter your behaviors, recover, and come back stronger than ever. As the owner of a consulting firm, I’ve been there.  Now, I’d like to share with you one of my biggest mistakes and how I fixed it in the hopes that it will help you in your business.

My big mistake

Over my company’s 25-year history, our biggest mistake was focusing too much on our customers and not enough on keeping our own house in order. We were seriously off balance. Years ago, we were awarded a sizeable contract and dove in, head first. We spent the entire year allocating all of our resources (time, money, energy) into the client, and none on ourselves. When the contract was fulfilled, we were way behind, growth-wise. We needed to scramble to stay current with software updates, technology advances, audit requirements, and new business. Instead of proactively seeking growth and investment opportunities, we had merely been reacting when deadlines came due.  We neglected our own business health, not to mention personal health, in favor of our client.  

Direct cause of the mistake

We focused too much on following the money trail. Revenue and sales were what mattered, regardless of the opportunity cost to our future potential. The need for instant gratification drove us to overlook some essential operational requirements and investments. Along the way, there were times that we forgot the true purpose that drove us to go into business in the first place.

Identifying the root cause

The root cause was not maintaining a healthy balance of external (customer) focused activities and internal growth activities. When our contract was over, our pipeline had languished, our energy was drained, and we felt disconnected from our original mission.

The solution to avoid a repeat mistake

We have learned to shift our mindset from being primarily revenue focused to one of balance. Our annual plan now incorporates an equal amount of efficient and effective initiatives. Internally, we define “efficiency” as activities focused on maximizing resources procured in past decisions.  Essentially, doing more with less. To us, an “effective” strategy considers the impact of an action not just to us, but to the market and society. Effectiveness keeps a longer term strategy in mind and is thus more adaptable to the changing environment. When organizations are frenzied to efficiently reduce costs over time or to take on as much business as possible, so much emphasis is placed on the “now” that the impacts on tomorrow are overlooked.  On the flip side, however, a company who is always thinking towards tomorrow and how to increase their effectiveness may find themselves in a jam.  It’s all about balance.

Years later, we are thriving and add “balance” checks into our daily activities, making sure that we’re devoting the right amount of energy to all sides of the business.  Some days are easier than others, but we make it work.  Remember, it’s not the mistake that defines us, it’s how we handle it.