Friday, May 25, 2018
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Habits rather than willpower

I started working for our retail family business two years ago,” says a male reader, 27. “I want to thank you, because when my parents read your columns on letting children make mistakes, they did not micromanage me, they let me explore new things. So I was able to formalize our IT and do more creative marketing. I am now vice president!

“My problem now is on my day-to-day work, which I find boring. I don’t have enough motivation to check this and that, or go into details.

Twice I have made costly mistakes because of carelessness. I have to be more careful, but it’s my personality, I guess.


“How can I improve myself? As the future head of our family business, which I am enjoying on the whole, except for the boring bits…How do I motivate myself? I don’t have enough willpower.”

Reply: Willpower is a finite resource, so replace it with habits. You don’t have to think twice about exercise, eating vegetables, or brushing your teeth, do you? These are done daily, and they can get quite boring.

But since these tasks have already become ingrained habits, we don’t think twice about doing them.

In your day-to-day responsibilities, decide which functions can be developed into habits. For example, you likely don’t have to check financial statements line by line every day.

But as vice president and future head, you do have to keep an eye on the specifics of major transactions.

Program your IT system to alert you to these transactions, and schedule these check-ups into a 15- to 30-minute chunk of your day. When things run smoothly—hopefully, no more costly mistakes—then you don’t have to spend a lot of time dwelling on them.

Aside from finances, other routine duties may include poring over sales figures or even legal matters. Since you run a retail company, sales are the lifeblood, so you need to be familiar with the ins and outs of daily sales and daily marketing.

You have created good marketing strategies, but you need to go beyond these and evaluate which strategies really work. Evaluation and assessment may not be as exciting, but they are as integral as the creative aspect.


As for sales, I am leaving you with no choice. The best family businesses in retail have leaders who are attuned to the sales patterns that they can determine whether to stay the course, or change paths nimbly if needed. You have to stay on top of sales.

In establishing a habit, the first three to six months are the most difficult. You may ask guidance from your parents or from the sales head. Learn as much as you can about the vagaries of sales: Which months are the most profitable? What events can explain certain trends? What strategies have worked with certain customers?

Only when you have immersed yourself in these not-always-exciting figures can you move on to issues such as: How can systems be professionalized to increase sales, and when this is accomplished, to increase profits and not just sales? How can structures be put in place to maximize the assets of the company?

As for legal matters, you may need your company lawyer to scrutinize these first before your final say, and of course, you know better than to enter a deal without your lawyer’s approval.

Discuss with your parents which details can be delegated to others for you to be more effective.

But all of us have to do things which may not be pleasant, but leadership guru John Maxwell says, “After the novelty wears off, the daily discipline you established [with turning practices into habits] early in the process will spur you to continue.”

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