[This is the fourth installment in a 12-week series exploring Business Through the Lens of Permaculture. Using the principles of permaculture, a design framework that brings greater connection and understanding of the way elements within a system work together, we will undergo a study about how each of these principles can be applied to the systems of business. This series will focus specifically on small business, where an owner’s way of working impacts every facet of the business.]

This week we’re exploring the principle Apply Self Regulation and Respond to Feedback.

This principle is key to thinking about any system from the perspective as a closed loop – both within short time frames and longer time frames. It reminds us that anything we do is along a continuum, an iterative process that evolves over time.

Everything in business (and in life!) is iterative, we try something, tweak it, test it again and repeat. This applies to how we send emails, schedule workouts (or even how we’re working out), or engage in our own learning and self-development.

When we take an action, we will always receive feedback and use that feedback in the process of growth, creation, and service.

There are two pieces of this framework – the first is Apply Self Regulation.

To me, this means knowing where we need to regulate ourselves and our businesses. Discipline is a core component of running a business. When you think about massive companies, they are subject to a lot of regulation and discipline that is exerted upon them externally. When we think about small businesses, especially those making under a million or under six-figures, most regulation happens as a result of the business’s awareness about itself that comes from the owner and the team who run it.

Self Regulation can mean taking a stand for issues that are aligned with the business values. It may mean donating money or time to causes, taking a stand for social or economic justice, or modeling practices that you desire to see in the larger cultural collective.

From a very practical standpoint, Applying Self Regulation means having a schedule and structure for the way you work, both internally in the business, externally as a public-facing entity and with clients through the work you do. It means you’re consistent in your communication, have a process to getting your work done, serving your clients, delivering the products you create and interfacing with your team or support professionals.

Part of this work is about our awareness of our impact on the next seven generations and about knowing the impact from the previous seven generations and remedying the mistakes of those who have come before us.

If we think about self-regulation through the lens of permaculture ethics, we want to think about earth care, people care and fair share. What is the self-regulation we need to keep in mind about earth care, people care, and fair share?

How do we do our part to care for the earth? This might be reducing the number of printed materials and supplies we use during the day-to-day operations of the business. It could be not generating materials that will only be used once and then thrown out. It could be maintaining awareness of how much electricity we use and especially how much we travel for our work. How many conferences are we flying around the globe to attend? Do we need to do that for our work to sustain and grow? Are there events that are closer by that will achieve the same results?

What’s our responsibility for self-regulation when we think about people care? How do we weave social justice into our work where we can? Do we offer scholarships or multiple price points to our work? Do we make an effort to ensure our work is inclusive in its ability to serve people with a range of abilities and backgrounds? How do we ensure that our work is non-oppressive and supports humanity for generations to come? If you think about your work and its impact seven generations to come, is the outcome positive? Are you contributing something that is generative long-term?

The other part of this framework is to Respond to Feedback.

When we think about accepting feedback, one of the best things we can remember is that reality speaks. 

Are you listening?

To receive feedback, there have to be mechanisms that make this possible. We can accept feedback from our clients if we ask them for it, send review forms, and email our communities for feedback and insight.

Internally within the business, we might have a feedback structure that exists where we collect learning and insights on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and/or yearly basis. The foundation for this feedback might be a mix of qualitative and quantitative data including goals, metrics, an understanding of what is happening in the business, how we are showing up to the business and our mission.

We might bake this all into a planning process, a process that we learn by, or a process that allows us to iterate based on our mistakes and learning. This is key since this principle is about responding to feedback. It’s not about getting the feedback and then doing nothing about it. In fact, this is one of the biggest areas for opportunity within a business. How many businesses receive feedback and then don’t take action? I see this happen all the time – businesses want different results than the ones they’re getting, but then when feedback comes in, the business doesn’t change.

For example, I am testing a new monthly review process I learned from my friend Sebastian Marshall. (Hot tip: Sebastian and his business partner, Kai, produce monthly productivity workshops that are free and awesome. If you’re into that kind of thing, check them out.) The review includes looking at the previous month either week by week or day by day to see when I was truly effective with my energy and time, setting a theme for the upcoming month, and reviewing data that’s most important to me. By using this process, I can use what I learned in the past month to improve the way I approach the coming month.

No change in action, no change in results.

This is most commonly the missing piece in this closed-loop process is coming back around again, implementing the change based on the feedback received and then walking through the next round of implementation to make the next round of mistakes and learning along the journey. What feedback mechanisms can you add to the mix? Which would be most useful for the business? How about most useful for your clients and customers?

As you move forward, think about self-regulation and feedback as two sides of the same coin. On one side, you exert regulation on yourself and your practices. On the other side, feedback provides additional information that guides the business journey.

What are ways you Apply Self Regulation and Respond to Feedback? I’d love to hear what’s working for you or what you feel like is missing in your current ways of operating.