Friday, January 4, 2013

Will your business be in good health this New Year?

IN SHAPE: Business owners should take their companies' health
to the next level in 2013
Year-end business performance reviews were in full swing in recent weeks. Most business owners use traditional KPIs like revenue, profit, and cash flow to measure the health of their companies, and set monthly, quarterly, and annual goals for 2013 to improve performance. At the same time, people everywhere are thinking about their personal health and fitness -- making resolutions to be better in the New Year.

But business owners who want to ensure better performance in the new year should pay attention to both the fiscal and the physical health of their organizations. Like a person, businesses naturally develop unhealthy habits over time that limit potential and performance.

The guidance I'm about to describe is not unlike some common recommendations doctors are always giving their patients to improve their health and well-being. My hope is that the parallelism helps my advice stick with you so you can better achieve your 2013 business goals.

Here are five New Year's resolutions every business owner should make to improve their companies' health in 2013.

1. Identify and break bad habits. Organization leaders get comfortable with what they know. Unfortunately the marketplace is continually changing. What was once a positive habit can become something that holds you back. When you begin hearing or find yourself saying "This is the way we've always done it," then it is time to check the habit. Is it really something that is helping you? Or is it just comfortable? Just because you've done it in the past, does not mean it makes sense to do it now or in the future. In fact, doing something the same way again and again without a really sound reason is a sign that you're not growing or innovating. One great way to get to the root cause of a habit is to ask, "Why are we doing it?" five times. If you get five good answers, then you may be on the right track. If you don't get five good answers, then it may time for a change. If you really want to know your organization's bad habits, ask the front-line employees. They know. And they probably have ideas on how help you fix the problem. Make it a game. Find one bad habit a month and fix it. The best practice is to replace a bad habit with a positive habit. Just remember, it takes a while to change a bad habit. You'll never improve if you don't get out of your comfort zone, stop doing things "the way you've always done them," and start trying new ideas.

2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Businesses only move two ways, up or down. We grow or we shrink. Growth and comfort don't co-exist. Working to achieve new goals means you're going to be uncomfortable. After all, you are doing something new. That's OK! This feeling of discomfort might be similar to what you might feel when your doctor tells you that your weight and blood pressure are too high or when last year's winter gear doesn't fit anymore. Use this feeling of dissatisfaction to spur change. But it isn't enough to be uncomfortable. You must also create a compelling vision for yourself of what it will like when you succeed. You must also have concrete first steps that you can achieve. Get specific about what you'd like your future state to be. Create simple first steps to build momentum toward that future. Then take action!

3. Set small, achievable goals. We tend to devalue small, simple goals in favor of blue-sky visions. But small goals are crucial stepping stones to achieving larger goals. What's more, small goals are often more realistic than big ideas, so working small helps you keep your resolutions. However, this doesn't mean you should set goals that are so small you won't make much progress. Your goals should strike a balance between being realistic and being able to drive measureable improvements in your business. Break big goals into smaller steps that build toward your ultimate destination.

4. Stay accountable. Accountability is one of the most important factors when striving to reach any goal. You typically feel a level of pressure when you have to report to someone, which can help you meet deadlines and stay on track. To keep yourself accountable for your business goals, create an advisory council of people to check in on progress, remind you of your goals, and motivate you to move forward. Your council members could be employees, friends, and family. Write your goals down for yourself and your council, and post it by your desk to keep them top of mind. Set quarterly reviews with your stakeholders to review progress. Having these regular checkpoints will result in progress.

5. Boost your immunity. Ensure you have robust business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place to keep your operations humming toward your goals should an interruption strike -- natural disasters, power failures, network downtime, and so on. Your plans should cover how employees will communicate, where they will go, and how they will continue their jobs. Give every employee copies of the plans and ensure they understand them. You should also pick a day to test your plans and determine any areas of improvement, rather than waiting until an actual disaster to discover what you should do differently next time.

Keep these guidelines handy so you can continue to refer back to them throughout the year. This can help reinforce what you've just read and continuously remind you of some easy ways to stay true to your goals. Will your business be in good health this new year?