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Depressed mature businessman leaning on wall (Jacob Wackerhausen/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Depressed mature businessman leaning on wall (Jacob Wackerhausen/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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How to run a business without regrets Add to ...

After more than 20 years in business, I often get asked whether or not I have regrets. What would you do differently, people ask, if you could go back in time?

That’s a great question; it proves that the inquirers are trying to learn from another’s mistakes, instead of assuming that their situation doesn’t relate or that they already know everything about their industry. The truth is, I’m proud to say, that I have no regrets in my business career. Not a single one.

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So how did I accomplish that?

First, let me start by saying that just because I don’t have regrets, doesn’t mean that I haven’t made mistakes or drowned in my own share of failures. I have. I have had days, weeks, months, years and entire businesses that did not go entirely as planned. I have fallen short of goals and let myself and others down. But I have no regrets.

The main reason may be my definition of regret -- and the other reason may be that I am in complete denial. But let’s assume that’s not the case for the purpose of this column.

I define regret as looking back on a past situation and realizing that, at the time, I had access to other sources of information that would have led me to a better decision or outcome.

Conversely, many people take what they know now, and overlay it on a past decision and call that regret. If you do this, you’re not being fair to yourself. There’s no point taking years of experience and hindsight and applying to a past situation and being regretful. It’s just not realistic.

Instead, I look back as objectively as I can, and ask myself, based on the all the information, whether I could or should have acted differently. To date, my answer has been no. I look back and realize that in the absence of any new data, I would have made the same decision...for better or for worse.

So how do I keep this enviable trend going? The same way you can: by systematically and patiently asking as many questions as you can to as broad a set of co-workers, investors, suppliers, friends, family and mentors as possible.

Once that’s complete, you should patiently weigh the pros and cons and execute your solution.

But wait! You’re not done yet.

The fastest way to uncover a decision you regret is to blindly stand behind your own approach. Instead, monitor the results against your expectations and be ready to adjust as needed. One of the most predicable parts about being and entrepreneur is that almost nothing goes exactly as predicted. Get ready to maneuver along your path.

I have a client who demonstrates this ‘path of least regret’ approach very well. He doesn’t do it consciously; he’s just wired this way. If we come to a critical decision point in his business, I take him through the approach stated above and he and I agree on a path we can both stand behind. Yet, the very next day he’ll call me and say that he ran our conclusions past a handful of other trusted people in his network and achieved a sweeping consensus and is ready to proceed. Some people in my position would be offended for the lack of faith in my advice and our decision, but I applaud him. He’s chasing a ‘regretless decision’ and I think that will serve him well for the rest of his small business career.

These problem-solving techniques aren’t necessarily intended for the day-to-day, minor decisions, but more so for the major, strategic moves in your business. Yet the philosophy and attitude towards how you shoulder the responsibility of leading your team can serve you well wherever you choose to apply it. That is time well spent, you won’t regret it either.

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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