Tightening The Reins

Chinese curse or not, we do live in interesting times.


One common phrase, philosophy and set of practices current in business is to “tighten the reins”. With thoroughbred horses this may reasonably be perceived to “nobble” performance levels. So too in business.


Yes, a figurative tightening of all things can mean that risks are reduced, focus is narrowed – often onto cost containment – and greater control is exercised.


Among the additional consequences are a lessening of flexibility, a de-emphasising of creativity and innovation, a loss in recognition of the opportunities which exist, and sensitivity to the need for change.


Introspection can and does lead to enhanced efficiencies. Equally, a loss of an external focus may compromise effectiveness, relevance and competitive advantage.


The dynamics of society, the global economy and marketplaces are such that losing touch and becoming disconnected are real and all-too-often outcomes. Getting in touch with internal operations and micro-managing processes can often be at the expense of recognising, respecting, responding to and capitalising on multi-source inputs and rewarding outputs.




The old adage “What gets measured gets done,” retains its currency. So too does acceptance of certain innate biases within companies, typically emanating from the offices of owners and managers, as well as the corridors of power that inevitably lead to the boardroom.


Corporate cultures and philosophies are often moulded, refined and espoused by the leaders. Training, education, life experiences and nature all played a role and influence performance.


However, little consideration is often given to the lost opportunities caused by initiatives and directions like “tightening the reins”.


Quantifying them is often difficult, if not impossible. So too, measures of competitive standing and market positioning.


Notwithstanding those difficulties and initiatives, opportunity costs are borne by entities, large, medium and small in the long, immediate and short-term. It is therefore important that all strategic corporate decisions are founded on well-informed analyses of all available facts. In short, don't be blind to opportunities.





Much of the fun and many of the rewards in business flow from the vagaries in dealing with people; be they customers, clients, suppliers, associates, competitors, staff members, shareholders or investors. Enjoy the ride!


The mantras of “cash is king”, “lower debt” and “avoid risk” are well and truly articulated in all phases of contemporary society, business and politics. Perhaps it is time to re-introduce certain realities, like:


•  Risk cannot be avoided, just minimised
•  Change is a constant state, not an option
•  Life is a terminal condition.


Truly great, successful and profitable entities expect, encourage, learn from and profit through failures. Their essential common creed is:


Fail often – but in small measures.





“Tightening the reins” usually avoids major marketing, often capital-intensive decisions.


Errors of judgements do not occur if decisions and choices are not made.


However, hope, scope, visions and growth are typically not fulfilled when big, hard decisions are suspended.


In short, one should be aware of the consequences and do not close one's mind to options and alternative courses of action.





Champion thoroughbred horses like Phar Lap, Black Caviar and Sea Biscuit, whether racing in a sprint or staying event, were always allowed a little slack in the reins.


Giving natural leaders there head is, well, natural. They have the right and the expectation to stretch themselves, to aspire, to achieve and to sustain. So too business.


Financial and operational prudence are ill-defined benchmarks. Intuition is a fundamental ingredient and a guiding value. It is also subjective.


A tightening of the corporate reins should be applied judicially, to avoid unnecessary and unintentional constraint.


To do otherwise, will bring down the wrath of the stewards, the Clerk-of-the-Course, or the shareholders and the marketplace, if you will.





“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King”. It is a saying which has particularly pertinent at present.


With so many management teams responding to calls to “keep your heads down”, the vision and perspectives are limited. Being constrained to the parameters of the figurative trenches impinges on the prospects for action.


Those who take a calculated risk to stick their heads above the “turrets” may well find a landscape, the marketplace if you will, with countless unfulfilled and non –competitive opportunities.




Changes and improvements in performance inevitably flow from changes in attitudes, perceptions and confidence levels. Each of the latter can be materially influenced from objective evaluations of situation analyses.


Therefore, the initial steps to address and to redress the emphasis of “tightening the reins” involve the agenda of all future management, marketing, planning and selling meetings to feature prominently fundamental questions:



•  What if we do...?
•  What if we do something new?
•  What if we do something different?
•  What if we stop doing...?


Long may you reign over hesitancy.