Your Biggest Business Challenges: Are They Inevitable or Self-Inflicted?

Understanding what is and isn’t in your control can help you navigate the course and deploy resources and strategies more efficiently going forward. 

Ed Eppley
December 11, 2023

All businesses are faced with challenges. Even the best-run companies are not immune to the instability of markets forces or imperfections of people working at and running the business. But the types of challenges businesses encounter – and their ability to overcome them – vary.

As many organizations develop plans for their next fiscal year, it is also a good time to assess the unforeseen issues and ask: were the challenges we faced inevitable or were they self-inflicted?

Understanding what is and isn’t in your control can help you navigate the course and deploy resources and strategies more efficiently going forward.

Inevitable Challenges

Here’s a quick list of challenges that are likely outside of your control:

An uncertain economy – supply chain issues – business regulations – low unemployment that makes it challenging to recruit top talent – increased competition – and industry-specific concerns.

The hard but necessary thing to do when encountering these realities is to weather the storm and adapt. There is little you can do to “fix” the larger challenge at hand.  

Often, it is within these inevitable challenges that successful companies lean in and look to the future. They invest, plan, and prepare to go on offense. They position themselves to accelerate when that which is inevitable is no longer viewed as impossible.

The life cycle of most successful businesses – as well as their products or services – follows a traditional pattern from initial growth, graduating into a mature organization, and then moving forward toward aging or legacy-company status.

Companies, like the products they produce, will experience a limited lifespan if there isn’t reinvestment into new ideas, products, technologies or services to meet customer desires. Every product eventually will sunset if it isn’t improved upon – and the same is true for the business itself.

It is why the slope has a “warning line” (in red) on the aging side of the curve. For those who don’t take action or refuse to reinvest revenue to stimulate new growth, the company becomes ripe for some form of collapse.

This is an unintended consequence that emerges from a self-inflicted challenge.

Self-Inflicted Challenges

Some things become inevitable because of self-inflicted challenges. These are things you unknowingly do or don’t address that undermine the business and erode the cultural lifeblood of the company.

The refusal to reinvest is simply one of them, as it speeds up an inevitable demise. New products and services can extend and perhaps flatten the curve for a while, but it takes more than shiny new things to reclaim growth the company once experienced. A short-term focus on revenue and margins only pushes companies closer to an inevitable fate.

Self-inflicted challenges are largely seen as internal human failings. And it is the responsibility of leaders and managers to anticipate, recognize, and address them as they emerge before they cause irreparable harm.  

Patrick Lencioni captures them well in his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which include:

Absence of trust

Fear of conflict

Lack of commitment

Avoidance of accountability

Inattention to results

When these dysfunctions are allowed to permeate the organization, they lead to several undesired outcomes including disengaged and underperforming teams, high performers choosing to leave, erosion of culture, and unsustainable results.

When acknowledged and addressed, any dysfunction can be reversed to become a strength. As you gain the sure, solid footing of a strong and healthy organization, you’ll see how capable your organization is of meeting challenges head on and achieving a desired trajectory.

The Assets of Aging and Discipline

The disciplines of managing well (avoiding self-inflicted challenges) and investing revenue back into the company for new ideas and product development – even in the face of unforeseen and inevitable market forces – affords the smart and healthy company to continue to grow.

In the life of any company, aging doesn’t have to lead to demise. Companies that view aging through the long lens of experience and wisdom (e.g., what afforded success in the first place), apply the lessons learned and modify them for the unique challenges ahead.

It’s not luck or good market timing that helps overcome the challenges a business will face over time. It’s applying the right disciplines coupled with a desire to keep climbing. Without them, the challenges that inevitably arrive will yield results nobody wants.

There will be peaks and valleys. There will be situations you can anticipate as well as things you couldn’t imagine coming. When it happens, keep this perspective:

Persevering with discipline means the next valley is likely equivalent to or greater than the previous peak.

That’s the motivation needed to weather and address any challenge that comes your way.