3 Words Every Owner Should Use That Will Massively Improve Your Business

growing your business Jan 02, 2024

Company culture is a term you hear thrown around a lot but usually in reference to larger businesses. The reality is though that every business has a culture even if there is only one person there.

The culture is generally determined by the owner because they determine what the business is, how it operates, who the customers are, and what employees get hired. Even after companies get massive there is still a lot of that legacy culture left from the startup days and it really has a lot to do with how well the business operates, how easily it can recruit new employees, and how well it grows.

There are plenty of stories about companies with bad cultures or toxic workplaces or just places where most people are looking to move on almost as soon as they get there.

It’s not hard to think of ways to make a business a bad place to work but is there one simple way to make the business culture amazing?

Good news- the answer is yes!

Well, I say simple because it really is a very simple concept, but it may take a pretty big mindset shift for some people to embrace and some may never make the leap. But once you realize how empowering it is I can’t see anyone arguing against it.

I’ve personally seen it work transformative miracles at small businesses. It was one of the core things I learned very early in my career working at a restaurant chain. I’ve carried it with me ever since and any time I start to struggle with how things are going I just need to remind myself of this simple three-word mantra which then frees me to figure out how to immediately start to fix things.

And on the flip side, I’ve seen plenty of people who refuse to do this and just go from one disaster to the next always feeling helpless about the horrible situations they keep having come up in their businesses.

So what is this simple three-word magic phrase? Here it goes: “It’s my fault.”

OK, I can already hear the pushback and rejection of this idea from here! But let me explain a bit more and see if by the end you agree!

How Embracing This Three-Word Phrase Can Transform Your Business!

But Matt, I can hear you thinking, a lot of stuff simply isn’t my fault, so how can me saying it is help my business?

Well first, let me explain why this is so powerful, and then I can explain the broader way to think about and use this phrase.

You can see the world in two ways- things that you can control and things you can’t control. In life, for sure a lot of things happen to you that you can’t control (although there is probably a lot more you can control than you may think).

In business, however, as the owner, nearly everything that happens is in your control. If you believe that and are willing to take responsibility for the things that happen, then that also means you can continually make changes to improve your situation.

On the other hand, if you think things just “happen to you” and you have no control over them then you’re at the mercy of fate and whatever comes your way. Trying to make things better under those conditions may seem pointless since you think you can’t prevent bad things from happening.

By owning the idea that you have control over what happens, then when something happens you don’t like, if you start with OK, this was my fault, then the next logical conclusion is “I can fix this” or “I can change things so this doesn’t happen again”.

Essentially, taking responsibility then gives you the power to make it better. Saying it’s not my fault means you had no control over it and you’re just the victim. Don’t be the victim of your business, be the in control owner!

So here’s a real-world example of this. In working with a restaurant manager I was trying to help improve his store, he noted one of the problems was his staff was not good at customer service and they consistently got low ratings and bad reviews as a result.

He concluded that it was because generally younger workers were lazy, just wanted a paycheck, and didn’t care at all about the job. He felt it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t get them to do better and there was nothing more he could do.

I asked him these questions:

  • Who interviewed the people who work for him? He did.
  • Who decided to hire the people who work for him? He did.
  • Who trained (or really, failed to train) the people who were working there? He did. 
  • Who monitored them, led them, and set expectations? He did.
  • Who failed to lead by example and set the high standards he expected his staff to follow? That was him.

Therefore, whose fault was it he didn’t have the staff he wanted? If you just believe “all employees are lazy and don’t care” then of course you’d feel like there’s not much you can do.

But just by visiting a few other businesses and talking to other owners, you can see lots of them have happy, motivated employees who provide great customer service. So the theory that it’s impossible to fix or that there’s no one good to hire is out the window.

If you take the approach that “It’s my fault” then you can lay out steps to start fixing it:

  1. Have a staff meeting to let everyone know the new ways things will be
  2. Provide training so everyone is clear on how things need to be done
  3. Provide feedback and course correction for anyone not still getting it right
  4. Let anyone go who simply refuses to meet expectations
  5. Ensure you are hiring the right people and making it clear from the start how they need to operate and providing them the training needed
  6. Lead by example by making sure you are doing things you expect the staff to do and not being a "do as I say, not do as I do" type of manager 

If you set the culture at your business to be one where you take responsibility for things and work proactively to make them better you will see the positive results of that almost immediately.

Even more powerful is to encourage the same way of thinking among all your staff and especially any managers - you don’t want them to think they are victims either!

If each person is regularly coached to consider how they can do better when something goes wrong and take responsibility for things they can control (and be shown how things are connected to their actions even if not immediately obvious) then that will become the pervasive attitude.  

Employees who play the victim and blame everyone but themselves for things will stand out and will either learn to turn things around or else leave quickly as “not a fit” for the business.

I can still hear some of you thinking OK that may work most of the time but what about when you have a customer who is simply a total jerk and impossible to deal with? How is that my fault? Well, if you did everything you could to help them and you set clear expectations and it still just isn’t working, then your responsibility is to let the customer know you aren’t a good fit for them and fire them.

If you don’t do that but continue to put up with their behavior, letting it demoralize your staff or disrupt your ability to serve all your other good customers then that IS your fault. It also means you may have the opportunity to better screen customers initially or adjust your marketing to make sure you are attracting the people you want and not casting the net too wide. Look at it from all angles and think about how you can improve.

The main takeaway of the idea that you always start with “It’s my fault” is that it means a change is needed and you have control over making that change. It’s not about feeling bad about yourself or being the victim yourself who is always to blame.

It’s just about recognizing that you have the opportunity to make a positive improvement to fix the problem that just appeared. Someone who thinks “It’s NOT my fault” has absolved themselves of any responsibility to make things better. But that’s no way to build a business culture that constantly improves and makes things better all the time.

If you build that culture then you will feel much better about the time you spend there, the employees you manage, the customers you serve, and life in general will be happier when you feel like you have control over what happens to you. That’s not just me saying that, either- science backs it up - people who feel like they have no control over things are much more likely to be depressed and unhappy.

Give it a try - you’ll see the difference and be glad you did! 

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