In the shifting sands of the business world, I think it is fair to say that all leaders would like to be successful. Their definitions of success will vary wildly but the common factor will be that they want the business to grow and to be profitable. But we all know that some businesses do grow and prosper and others don’t. So why does this happen? And what is the secret to those who are successful?

In the past success was often put down to good luck, but as a society we have largely moved on from such ideas and researchers have studied businesses in detail looking for the common elements of success. Out of this has come a handful of common factors that successful businesses exhibit which enables them to see off the competition and bring great ideas to a wide market.

1.    A Plan

Having a plan is the first necessity for success. Not all businesses have this at the outset and often it changes along the way (I’m thinking of Whitbread that started as a brewery but more recently reinvented itself, moving into a hospitality industry) but once a direction is settled upon it is important to develop clarity about where the business is going in order to communicate it to staff, investors and the wider world.

2.    Perseverance

This is possibly the most important of success factors.  Every new start-up business that I have ever come across finds it hard at first, and after that it gets even harder.  The founders are normally tested to the limits of what they can bear and usually well beyond.  Their vision of success sustains them through this testing time until finally they get the traction they need and the business become more stable.  If you don’t have the perseverance to see it through these difficulties, then the business will not survive.

3.    Understanding that success or failure is not permanent

When you are in the thick of running a business there are crises and celebrations.  Neither should be allowed to go to your head.  We all get swept along with the emotions of the good and bad news, but if you let success go to your head you will assume success is your God-given right and take your eye off the ball.  If you let failure go to your head, you will give up too soon and ruin the prospects of having a successful business.

Keep your feet on the ground, be watchful, celebrate the successes, learn from the failures and keep working hard towards your goal.

4.    Shared belief and a team spirit

Developing a well-functioning team is fundamental to a successful business.  It is important to choose good people to work with and learn to maintain a good working relationship.  Everyone has moments when they fall out or get upset but keeping the lines of communication open and honest allows you to repair relationships and build greater strength.  Understanding how to motivate and challenge staff while understanding them as people and working with their strengths is an important skill to develop.

5.    Motivation

Well of course you need to be motivated and you have to learn to motivate those around you.  Your motivation will be tested by circumstances and you will need to be able to maintain that drive over a long time period so make sure you enjoy what you are doing because otherwise you are committed to many years of hell!

6.    Clear vision of what success is

This is important for any business, and it will need to be revised once in a while when either the goals are achieved or it becomes obvious they aren’t going to work.  Either way the vision must be clearly understood by everyone in order to achieve the best for a business.  Yes, even the receptionist must know why they are doing their job and understand the importance of it or they won’t bring their heart to work with them.

7.    Maximise resources available

Running a business on a shoe string is no fun and unlikely to be successful.  If every activity is put through a filter of “we can’t afford it” it cramps people’s style and squashes their creativity.  Often business have to deal with shortages for a while, but don’t allow it to go on forever – it is just not worth it.

8.    Clear understanding of time, money and resources

Similarly to #7, staff and managers alike must understand the value of time, money and resources.  If people are behaving like the money will last forever and staff can give all the time in the world, then the business won’t last.  Especially in difficult times people need to understand what flexibility is available to them and where the limits are, or their actions will be inappropriate to the circumstances.

If you are aware in your business that any of these factors are not present, then your business is probably not reaching its full potential.  That means you are probably fighting unnecessary battles and wasting energy climbing a sand dune.  So it is worth taking steps to improve each of these to make sure you are getting the best out of your business.

If you’d like to learn more about how to make this happen in your business please consider attending our Organisational Leadership Skills course