“If only…” I hear those two words entirely too often these days. I hear them spoken by others and on occasion I succumb as well. Their usage goes something like this…

  • If only we had known…
  • If only they listened…
  • If only we had more customers…
  • If only we hadn’t borrowed that much money…
  • If only I could turn back time…
  • If only we had done that differently…
  • If only we could get someone to invest…
  • If only the market would turn around…
  • If only I could get a grant…
  • If only we hadn’t done that deal…
  • If only I had understood what that meant…
  • If only I had read the contract before signing…
  • If only I had done something sooner…
  • If only I had waited…
  • If only I could find someone to…

They all boil down to “If only things were different…”

Well, things aren’t different and you can’t change the past. You can’t. But you can learn from it and make better decisions in the future.

Lately it seems that more and more companies are finding that they have made some bad choices. Perhaps they followed the latest and greatest trend, only to find they weren’t ready or capable of executing. How about companies that relied on the “history of the relationship” with the customer and didn’t keep up the quality of product and service or communication with the customer, and the customer went elsewhere. Then there are the companies that weren’t willing to see the writing on the wall when sales began to decline and they relied on “when the market, economy, X turns around.”

“If only” doesn’t change the reality of what is happening in your business or organization. There are no fairy godmothers or leprechauns who wave magic wands or hide pots of gold at the end of your rainbow to make everything better. Improving your results and changing how things are only works if you work to make meaningful changes.

“If only” can be beneficial if you use the lessons you learned from hindsight to improve performance, adjust decision-making processes, and develop new strategies for dealing with similar situations in the future. If you want to avoid “if only” in the future, then you need to start today with actions and attitudes that will enable you to minimize future “if only’s.”

Three things you can do to transform “if only” to positive results in the future:

  1. Understand the components of the “if only” situation and develop process to change the outcomes in the future

For example, if the customer base is declining for economic, demographic or other factors, then identify the factors that are leading to the decline. Get the facts, don’t make assumptions; find new ways to reach a larger portion of your target market; find another niche that has similar or compatible market characteristics.

  1. Break away from “what we’ve always done.” If what you are doing isn’t working, then change what you are doing. It is insanity to expect different results from doing the same things over and over.

 

Note that many organizations get blinded to the cause and effect relationship between the actions they take and the results they get. If you don’t have sales, then what you are doing isn’t working. If you don’t “know” whether some program you have done works or not, then it probably isn’t—you would see it on your bottom line if it was working!

 

  1. Ask an expert—a real one—and listen to what they have to say.

One of the biggest complaints consultants and advisors have is being brought in to aid an organization in fixing a situation, then not being listened to or being challenged by the “expert” opinion of the company they just fired for not getting results or even better the opinions of someone who has no experience or background in the situation “Well my Great Aunt Martha says back when she worked for company X in the 90’s they did Y. What do you think about that?” Honestly? Not much. This isn’t the 90’s and while some business principles would still apply like “do business honestly and treat the customer well,” the world is different today (the Internet and social marketing for starters). Things have changed and you would do well to listen to the expert you are paying to help you.

The bottom line when it comes to “if only” is look back, learn your lesson, and then face the future and apply the lessons learned. “If only” you would do that one thing, you may just find that the future is full of opportunity and results.

Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC

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