Things small business owners should avoid #6: Frequent second-guessing

Long ago I had a boss who made a habit of rethinking decisions that had already been made. Man, does that get tiresome fast! A staff meeting that began with “I think we need to revisit (insert decision made earlier here)” brought a desire to pound your head on the table because the pain of doing that would be less than having to rehash yet again what everyone thought was settled business.

Second-guessing decisions and frequently backtracking or switching directions can be highly detrimental to a small business–or to a business of any size, for that matter. Here’s how:

• Employees never totally commit to a strategy because they know it might be abandoned shortly. When discussing new marketing plans with client companies, I have sometimes sensed indifference or skepticism from staff members who will be charged with implementing pieces of the plan. Upon probing it’s been clear that these attitudes are based on the fact that this is a “plan of the month” company. I’ve even had people use exactly those words to describe what life is like at their workplace. You can hardly blame them for their lack of enthusiasm.

When chances in direction are frequent, nothing new ever gets fully embraced because employees think it’s unlikely to last. The business owner is often mystified as to why employees aren’t enthusiastic, never dreaming that their habit of second-guessing is the root cause of the problem.

• Strategies and plans with real potential are never given a full chance to succeed. If the slightest resistance is felt or things don’t go 100% according to plan right out of the gate, everything gets tossed overboard and it’s back to the drawing board. This ignores the fact that very few things ever go perfectly. Success is never guaranteed, but good ideas that have been thoroughly researched and planned are worth giving time to prove themselves. Sure, tweaking needs to be done more often than not, but that’s far different from second-guessing yourself and abandoning something before it’s been given a real chance to make an impact.

• Customers can also become confused as to what your company is about. The uncertainty about what your company is up to can even seep out to customers. They don’t like frequent chances in direction any more than employees do. Puzzling shifts in company policies that affect customers, marketing messages that change so often they create confusion, big initiatives that are announced and then shortly abandoned…all of these things can cause customers to wonder if you really know what you’re doing.

The root of such indecision, of course, is self-doubt. This is possibly a more common problem among new small business owners than among those with more experience who have learned to trust their own judgment. But it’s also possible to find some bosses who have been around for a while who suffer from deep-seated insecurity that causes them to constantly revisit decisions.

If your second-guessing extends to questioning decisions made by employees in the course of daily business, your staff will quickly become completely disempowered and will simply stop making decisions. Everything will land at your doorstep and you’ll be left wondering why you have to do everything on your own. Talk about a lose/lose situation!

The next time you feel the urge to say “I think we need to revisit…” stop and think about the impact this bad habit is having on your business. Do you really need to revisit a decision or do you just need to tweak things a little bit? Are the reasons you made the decision in the first place still valid? Did you make the decision based on good input from employees, customers, mentors, and business advisors? Has something really changed that makes the decision suddenly invalid or are you just feeling insecure because things aren’t going absolutely according to plan? Have you given the decision enough time to work or are you in danger of pulling the plug prematurely? Consider these questions carefully before uttering the words that may cause your employees to want to pound their heads into the conference room table!

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