Today I had reason to do some research on the main challenges that businesses have faced in 2015. There were many surveys available for the US but it was more difficult to get data on business closer to home. The thing that was striking was that all of the issues quoted related to circumstances which were ‘outside’ an individual business rather than within it’s control.

The kind of things referred to included everything from the cost of Employee Healthcare (in the US) to Government Regulation, to access to quality Staff and of course, the availability of Finance. I wondered what was the point of focusing on such issues when in reality they just represent the environment in which every business must operate rather than the typical challenges faced on a day-to-day basis.

It reminded me of back in the early 1980’s, during my accounting training when I worked in the insolvency sector, and I used to hear similar excuses being quoted by both management and, in high profile cases, the media, when businesses failed. Back then it was Exchange Rates and Interest Rates, amongst others, that were used as the reasons for failure.

The reality on the other hand was very different when one actually got inside and saw in many cases the utter disarray that existed in terms of how theses businesses were run.

It was more about lack of planning, lack of monitoring of performance, lack of staff training and wastefulness along with a good dose of managerial incompetence that was to blame. Situations eloquently illustrated in those old ‘Troubleshooter’ programmes that I used to watch with my dad, in which Sir John Harvey Jones used to offer his extensive wisdom in some dire business situations only to be met with stubbornness and blinkered vision by the owners.

The fact is that well run businesses survive and even thrive in every environment. They learn to roll with the changing circumstances, both good and bad. Poorly run companies fail in all environments too, although difficult external circumstances do a good job in flushing them out quickly albeit with negative fallout for both employees and those owed money.

The point of this piece is that it seems to be part of the human condition whether it be in business or in our personal lives to point to things outside our control for excuses as to why things didn’t work out for us. The truth is that the answer lies in ourselves, in our behaviour, our decision-making, our planning or lack of it, our organisation and the actions we take or not.

That doesn’t mean that we must blame ourselves and beat ourselves up even more than we do already. No, rather by focusing on things that we can influence instead of those that we can’t, we can see that our circumstances lie entirely within our control and any impact or impediment brought about by external factors are nothing other than something to be negotiated along the way.

So when your business is not working or could be better performing then the place to start is by taking a hard look at what is not being done and needs to begin or what is being done and needs to stop. The change, the improvement opportunity is entirely within your control.

The same applies even if we are not running a business. If the current circumstances are not working then start doing different things or the same things differently.

If we look at ourselves honestly then we will see what we need to do. If we cannot critique ourselves effectively then get a colleague, a friend, a counselor, a coach or someone who will listen and help you see what is going on and what action you need to take.

The bottom line is that the stuff that makes the difference to your business or to you, personally, is entirely within your control. If it is not to your liking then perhaps it is time to do something about it now.