Failure is Never an Option: Trump is right, bad companies blame the tariffs, not themselves

I’m glad President Trump said it, its true, badly run companies are using the tariff war with China as an excuse for their poor performance. I agree with him. That is usually the case any time an organization is caught performing bad, they will use any excuse to hide their own behavior. In public school systems they always blame the unfunded mandates of the state, or the allocation of the state money, but what is usually the case, its their lazy union employees who are the cause of poor performance and the unwillingness of the school boards to fight them. In the private sector the same kind of blame game goes on, only in business there are constant exercises in management review that exploits the real problems. Not all companies, in fact most companies, are not well run so price increases due to the China trade war or long lead times from suppliers is an easy target for losers to blame for their own problems. So, it was good to see that we finally have a president who has run businesses, and understands how things really work, instead of some out of touch politician who believes everything advisors tell him.

Good management is to close gaps when it is obvious that they need to be closed, such as in the trade deficit with China. For all the bellyaching that is made about how bad the trade war is hurting farmers in America, Trump has moved $16 billion collected from the realignment of the new tariffs on Chinese goods and sent them straight to the farmers since they have been targeted by China. And as Trump pointed out, there are many more billions of dollars that we are collecting now that we weren’t before, so the farmer issue in losing to China isn’t even a consideration. And neither are the complaints where price increases are being blamed by the tariffs. As far as revenue collection, the United States is making money. As far as supply chain management, companies always knew the risks of doing business with a communist country, and they should have had contingency plans. That they didn’t says a lot about the kind of companies that they are, lazy and unprepared, so the tariffs are an easy target for the incompetent.

Almost before the trade war started between Trump and China I heard business insiders starting to blame the poor condition of their supply chains as an excuse to either push out lead times or jack up their prices. But if they were actually a well-run company, they would have already thought about those things, even a year out and they would not be affected by a trade war with China. Blaming the tariffs for anything is the first sign of people who don’t know better, and are bad managers of the elements of their life which interact with business. Before Trump came along nobody said such obvious things so we should all be grateful that Trump is willing to take on big communist currency manipulators like China but also the big companies in America who love to hide their out of control management on politics. Most of the time, the fault is theirs and theirs alone.

Every organization that runs a budget, whether it is the large government schools of nearly every community in North America or a large corporation like Apple, they are expected by reality to produce and to do so well. The challenges that come along whether its unfunded mandates or the supply of metals are tasks that all management is supposed to deal with. Nobody wants to hear excuses; they just want results and that is ultimately the value that companies bring to their markets. An excuse is not a value, it is simply a means to explain away failure. But from my perspective, and this has always been the case, failure is never an option.

I was very encouraged the other day; I was at a stop light and a large tractor trailer pulled up alongside me. On the trailer was a company motto stating, “failure is not an option.” I thought to myself, there is a great company. Any company or organization that puts that as part of their branding is at least trying to avoid the blame game of failure that is part of their business. Someone is always failing them, the question is, will they accept that failure or overcome the imposition? A company that does not accept failure but simply moves on from it is one that is trying to be successful. But a company that says, our business is hurt by the tariffs with China, or the interest rates that are at play, or we are having a hard time hiring people because everyone is on oxycontin these days, those are all loser statements. They may have roots in reality but accepting them for poor performance is detrimental to any organizational behavior.

A great football team doesn’t stop trying to win if their star player goes down, or if the referees call a bad game against them. Those things might actually cause a team to lose, but blaming those elements are loser statements. Accepting that failure is the first step in losing and any company that blames things for their poor performance is acting as a loser, and not taking the steps that success requires. To win at anything overcoming barriers to success are expected. If a company doesn’t have the talent to do so, or the will to do it, then failure may happen. To explain their inadequacy to their share holders and other carriers of the public trust, they might blame tariffs or supply problems. But in all honesty, it was their job all along to overcome whatever opposition to success that there was, and to win the game, whatever it may have been. When people say that “it’s not whether you win or lose, its how you play the game,” they are partially right. How you play the game is all important in whether or not you will experience success. But even in that popular statement are the seeds for failure planted. It implies that even if you lose, if you played a good game, then you are off the hook. Bad companies have become very good at looking like they are playing the game well with lots of nice charts and excuses, but ultimately it is how you play the game, and whether you win or not. Nobody likes second place. Everyone loves a winner. The goal is always to win and to overcome impediments.

Excuses are for those who are lazy or stupid, incompetent or up to no good. I often decry labor unions because they are often to blame for a company’s lack of management, or the organization as a whole of something like a public school where the inmates run the asylum. Management at these places often throw their hands up and say things like, we failed because none of the union workers wanted to work the weekend, or we had a strike and couldn’t bring in raw materials. But what they are really saying is that they have no control of their business and weren’t thinking far enough ahead to have contingency plans. Such companies are blaming the tariffs for their poor performance and they make Trump a target for their failure, but in all reality, they own that failure. And nobody else.

Rich Hoffman

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