The Second World War was still gaining momentum when Sir Winston Churchill spoke at the Harrow School in London.
It was October 29, 1941. The horrific Nazi carpet bombing known as the Battle of Britain had ended just months earlier and the United States wouldn’t officially enter the war in support of Britain until December of that year.
Yet there stood Churchill in the face of overwhelming adversity admonishing the students to “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Those powerful words were just one small part of the larger speech he gave that day, yet through the years they are the ones that have continued to resonate with people as they work through difficult times. As you might imagine I have found these words to be poignant as they relate to business, especially when things get tough.
Every business will experience tough times at some point and it seems the longer a company stays in business the tougher those times will be. By taking a few lessons from Sir Winston’s speech, we can help our business work through adversity and stay on the path to success and sustained growth.
The right mindset
Churchill knew the conflict in Europe wasn’t going to be a short one. He also knew Britain was woefully unprepared for a major battle, so he committed his government to prepare for a long war and to do whatever it would take to defend itself against the enemy.
What’s your mindset regarding your business? Did you get into it thinking you could make a quick buck and then exit? Or maybe you got into it with the idea of only making enough money to support yourself? If so, that’s not a business. That’s a job.
Successful businesses aren’t built overnight. If you’re going to be in business, do it with a long-term mindset. This way you’re not as likely to flinch when it comes to making major investments in equipment or buildings, or making business decisions with long-term implications like hiring top talent or working through the discouraging slow times that will inevitably occur.
Avoid blind hope
Although England was separated from the WWII conflict by the English Channel, Churchill knew Hitler would eventually bring his war to the British shore. Turning a blind eye and hoping things would get better would have been as foolish as standing in warm sunshine hoping winter never comes.
Most problems in business don’t materialize out of the blue. Many have their beginnings during good times, when business is booming and profits are strong. Typically this is when business owners let their guard down. This is also when they let themselves get sloppy or undisciplined with managing their business.
We tell ourselves the sun will always shine… until it doesn’t.
One of the keys to success in business is to always run it lean, even when sales are booming. This way you’ll be better prepared to handle adversity when the pendulum of business swings the other way.
Things were looking pretty grim for the people of Britain on the day Winston Churchill gave his speech at Harrow School. The outcome of the war was anything but certain.
If something didn’t change soon, it appeared all of Britain would be speaking German before much longer. Yet there stood Sir Winston before a group of school boys with the unshakable conviction that the path he was on was the right one and that in the end he and Britain would prevail.
In business, just like in war, there are never any guarantees of success. Starting a business doesn’t mean you’ll stay in business. Being in business more than five years simply means you beat the early odds. And sustaining profitable growth year after year requires commitment, a willingness to change, and a lot of paying attention to what’s going on around you.
Don’t negotiate with adversity
Until Nazi Germany started dropping bombs on the heads of Brits, Neville Chamberlain’s government continued to try to appease Hitler. Churchill disagreed with this approach. As he put it, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”
It’s no different in business. How often have you negotiated with adversity in the hope it would go away or resolve itself on its own, only to later find yourself wishing you’d confronted it sooner?
Taking an assertive, pro-active approach to challenges in business has a way of keeping small problems small and mitigating the damage when big problems arise.
Revisit your ‘why’
Churchill and Britain knew they were in a life and death struggle, but even during their darkest hours they were motivated by their drive to preserve a way of life, a rich history and heritage, and the dream of a lasting legacy. In other words, they were fighting not just for survival, but for the generations of people who came before them and the generations of people who would follow.
Fortunately for most of us, business is rarely a matter of life and death. It’s usually more a matter of “wants” and “needs.” We want to earn more money. We want to take more time off. We need to take care of our customers. We need to collect more cash. We need to meet this week’s payroll.
With each of these wants and needs comes friction; friction that creates stress on both our person and on our business. When the friction becomes great enough we find ourselves asking questions like “Why do I put up with all this?”
It’s our answer to the “why” that either motivates us to soldier on through adversity or allows us to surrender. The stronger our “why,” the stronger our resolve.
Starting a business is easy. Anybody can do it. Growing a business is the tough part, and it gets even tougher when things aren’t going our way, or when we feel conditions are out of our control.
Reminding ourselves of Sir Winston’s words to “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never…” might help sustain us through the rough patches that are a natural part of every business.
Chuck Violand understands the unique challenges of small businesses, having owned a commercial cleaning and water damage mitigation company for 26 years. He founded Violand Management Associates (VMA) in 1988 as a consulting, teaching and training resource for owners of small businesses. To learn more about VMA’s services and programs, visit www.violand.com or call (330)966-0700.