Why discipline matters in business

3 February 2014
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MANILA, Philippines – Business is more than “strategy” or “innovation” or “digital marketing” or any of the sexy buzzwords used. At its roots, a successful business is all about nailing the fundamentals, or as we used to call it in my old American football days, “blocking and tackling.” And among these fundamentals, nothing is more crucial than to have discipline. As an organization. As individuals within the team.

Never in my career have I ever seen a person who mismanages their personal finances be truly successful in managing the budgets of the company. If you can’t manage your own money, what would make me think you can manage mine? What this really means is, business is just a part of life. How we as individuals perform in one part of life is indicative of how one will operate in business.

Business is just a microcosm of life.

Discipline is no different. I have had discussions many times with a younger member of my organization and coached around “improving discipline.” And sometimes I would get the response back, “I hear you, Jim, but I have to say I am a disciplined person in my life … when I really want to be.”

What a crock of absolute baloney.

Discipline is a way of life. It’s not a “sometimes” thing. It’s not selective at all. The essence of discipline is “Doing something when you don’t want to.” Hence, if you want to do something, it doesn’t require any discipline to do it! Sleeping in, when one is tired and wants to sleep in, requires zero discipline, yet rising at 5 a.m. to run when you are tired and you just want to stay in bed, requires discipline.

Discipline in sales is the difference between success and failure, between the stars and the also-rans. It takes discipline to rise each morning and go visit your customers. It takes discipline to stand in the heat of a palengke and affix merchandising materials. It takes discipline to reset a shelf, because the option is there to simply “not do” these activities, which are crucial to building a business.

I unfortunately cannot count the number of times my business has been hit by poor discipline in the financial arena. Mistakes are made on spreadsheets, lack of double- and triple-checking figures, and we misread the numbers. Or a mistake is made in inventory and we double count some stock and miscalculate our real inventory position — all a matter of poor discipline. Not checking and rechecking numbers. Just assuming the spreadsheet is right.

There is an old saying: “Execution is the only strategy the consumer sees.” Strategy is nice, but without discipline the execution of that strategy can be a far cry from what one expected. I again cringe when I think of how some of the best-laid strategies were undermined by poor execution … having a superb package, great marketing, wonderful selling plan, and yet the product itself had issues, and killed the entire project. And the issue was discipline. The team didn’t do the work to really understand the product, check it out, and test it sufficiently. It was all about speed and rushing to market, and not doing the homework to make sure what you were selling was up to standards.

It’s all about discipline.

Discipline starts not when the workday starts, but discipline is a way of life. It starts at home, and starts with the small things. Forget the baloney of, “I am disciplined when I want to be.” The fact of the matter is, some of us are disciplined, and some are not. And this is probably a key reason why some are more successful than others.

It starts with the small things. How is your appearance? Are you taking care of yourself, your personal hygiene? Is your dress business-appropriate? Are you on time for meetings? Do you return phone calls? E-mails?

Take a hard look in the mirror. How disciplined are you? Discipline in one part of life indicates discipline in business. Because discipline is not a casual choice, it is a way of life.

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