Beyond your control: How to deal with (and adapt to) the things you cannot change

Paul RiecksBy Paul A. Riecks

QUESTION: Ever since the 2008 recession and the long, slow recovery, things just don’t seem to be the same. I feel like my service busienss is doing OK, but I am not sure why, and I definitely don’t feel like I am guiding us to a desirable future. What are other owners and CEOs doing about today’s conditions?

RESPONSE: You have probably heard the Serenity Prayer authored by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Running a business does not stop with recognizing the difference. You have to take into account the things that cannot be changed and decide what you are going to do about them. Since the onset of the recession, all manner of trends have evolved that bear serious consideration:

The presidential election. Just before the 2016 election, Bank of America polled thousands of business owners about their concerns about the election and the issues that mattered most to them. You can see the results at Now that the election results are in, what do you, your trade association and your local governments think the effects will be of having a new administration and Congress? Gather as much information as you can and decide what actions you should take as a result of what you have learned. You cannot change who got elected, but you can control your company’s reaction to it.

The rise of a new workforce. Remember when the world could not stop talking about the impact of baby boomers on society and business? It seems like there is now even more discussion on the rise of millennials and their differences in values and work ethic. It is interesting to study what makes them tick — they are collaborative, less interested in buying cars and houses than their forebears, and they demand a balance between time spent working and doing other things. Again, you cannot change who millennials are, but you can look at options for changing work processes, compensation programs and career-management strategies to align with their values. One of their strengths is their complete familiarity with technology and the extent to which it is integrated into their lives. How can that be harnessed to enable them to get results measured by company success rather than by the number of hours they work?

Digital marketing and social media. The internet has brought many blessings to businesses, not the least of which is the opportunity to gather new customers and keep the ones you have. However, remember that digital marketing still relies on a lot of the tools that made traditional marketing work, like excellent graphic design and top-notch content writing. So look for digital marketing resources that have a strong basis in successful marketing strategy — not just technology. Then there’s the problem that your online reputation must be guarded and managed every day. Either hire directly or contract with someone to accomplish this.

The rapid advance in technology. It is really difficult to keep up with technology, to know how to use it and to avoid the trap of jumping at every new thing that comes along. Again, you need resources that have a firm foundation in business strategy, and also the ability to understand your business and help you with the right technology at the right time. Technology requires that leadership be involved in how it is used. Ignorance is not bliss here (or anywhere else, for that matter).

A changing population. There are two very big demographic tides running now in addition to the rise of millennials: First, baby boomers are aging with a completely different view of life after 60 or 65. Many continue to work. Their health is good and they want a more active lifestyle than their parents had when they aged. They are living longer, with the concern that they will outlive their money. A second tide is the changing ethnic proportions in our population. No matter what happens with immigration, the percentage of multiple ethnicities in America is growing rapidly. So what do these trends mean for your business? What opportunities and problems do they create?

Take a look at life around your business and listen to what it says and does. Survival and even success goes to those who adapt.

Paul A. Riecks is principal of Insight, which forms and facilitates peer groups of business owners and CEOs.

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