The Business of Habits

The Business of Habits

Habits are something mighty. So mighty they can destroy you: drinking, smoking, doing drugs, eating junk food. Other habits are less dangerous but harmful nonetheless: excessive social media consumption, binge watching your favorite streaming site, not getting enough sleep. Then there are healthy habits – they make us happy and can even help us become champions: physical exercise, playing an instrument, spending quality time with your spouse, kids, family, friends.

Healthy habits can be hard to establish, and easy to lose. Negative habits are often easily adapted and darn difficult to overcome. Negative and harmful habits feed our instant-gratification-monkey, whereas healthy habits require longer term thinking, and sometimes short term sacrifices. For example, to become proficient at playing an instrument I might have to overcome the monkey here and now, and practice rather than chillax, to reap the benefits later – e.g. when enjoying performing with my band at a local music festival. No pain, no gain. Let’s not forget that practice itself is a great source of motivation, it allows us to see the progress we are making toward mastery through a habit of exercise and training.

In business too there are dangerous, harmful, and healthy habits.

A dangerous habit in business is having too strong a focus on rewards and feeding your ego. If it’s all about you, instead of serving your clients and the people you lead, your business will go down the drain faster than you may think. Examples include countless smaller businesses as well as large corporations and brands, such as Nokia and Lehman Brothers.

A harmful habit is gossiping. Gossip spreads like cancer and eventually poisons the atmosphere among colleagues; it is detrimental to workplace culture. Always remember: people that gossip with you also gossip about you. Instead of gossiping, be intentional about creating and fostering trusting relationships.

A healthy habit in business is being constantly alert to trends and developments around you. As an entrepreneur, company owner, or leader in a larger organization; becoming complacent when you are doing well is not what you want – instead you want to establish three powerful habits.

Three powerful habits of strategic business people

Habit #1: build and grow your strategic acumen
One of the most powerful habits I’ve seen in business is to constantly grow your strategic acumen: your ability to think and act strategically. Now, what does that mean? Typically, your everyday business is not strategic but operational. You produce and deliver goods or services, deal with satisfied or not-so-satisfied customers, improve your operations, processes and systems to perform in the most effective and efficient ways.

How do you make sure you are able to shift gears from time to time, taking a step back and assessing your business strategically? Everything starts with knowledge. You want to start with building and honing your skills in designing and implementing your business strategy. Like all skills, strategic acumen can be acquired. It’s a set of tools, thought processes and questions you should learn and apply to your business. Strategic acumen helps you avoid the complacency trap and instead establish a habit of strategizing. This will result in you building a better business and a more fulfilling life.

You don’t need a full blown MBA; instead, start with a hands-on, intentional strategy masterclass, like this one that is applicable to your situation and helps you grow your business.

Habit #2: Say no by default
As an entrepreneur, life is full of sweet and shiny objects: entrepreneurs constantly spot new business opportunities, see the potential for improvements here and there, and want to pursue as many ideas as possible. Imagine your default answer to an idea, opportunity, or offering would always be “yes”, how long would it take before you overburden yourself and those around you?

Strategy is about saying “no” to a heck lot of potentially great ideas and promising opportunities. You only say yes to those that match your strategy in the best possible way and have the biggest potential to propel your business forward, towards the vision you defined: the state of your business that you want to reach within the next two, three, maybe even five years.

To stay the course, you need to say yes to a handful of priorities that you will dedicate your time, energy and resources to. Everything else gets the no. The habit of saying no by default will empower you to focus on what matters most.

Habit #3: Check your health
It is best practice to regularly check your health. Caring parents have their babies checked by a medical doctor at certain intervals. Also later in life we do preventive medical check-ups, to be sure we are in good shape. Strategically savvy entrepreneurs and leaders do the same for their businesses. At least once a year they run an organizational health check, focussing on some of the most important success factors that enable or hinder success.

To determine the level of your organization’s health, you want to ask a set of critical questions, including: Are we 100% clear about our purpose, i.e. the problem out there that we are uniquely positioned to solve? How does our purpose shine through in our vision, especially with regard to our offering and the value it delivers to our customers? Is our business strategy still on point? Does everyone in the organization understand their contribution and role in bringing the strategy into action?

Running an organizational health check at least once a year reveals weak spots and helps you identify measures to get rid of the root causes and symptoms. 

Main image by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

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