~Taking the “maudlin” out of New Year’s Resolutions~
By John T. Hewitt
Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service
Doesn’t every New Year seem to bring the inevitable article that takes you into that “fuzzy world” of rhetoric and reads more like a ballad of flashbacks that didn’t quite hit the top 100 list? Sure, looking back on previous years’ efforts is always a sane approach to substantiate your movement forward. But let’s not get so mired in the past that we become immobile because we are focusing too much on what didn’t happen and not enough on what did. We can’t change yesterday, but we can surely impact tomorrow’s success. Reflection may be good for the soul, but let’s talk business, not just recycled resolutions!
Following are five important resolutions that are fairly commonsensical, pretty fundamental, and definitely achievable:
1. Think out of the box: This should be on every business leader’s resolution list. Quoting early 20th-century self-help author James Allen, “All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.” Learning the lessons of forward-thinking is paramount to your continued success. Remember, we do not live in a one-size-fits-all world. Creative thinking will always win over safe and boring. Success is not built on status quo thinking but on innovation. One must always embrace the new and take intelligent risks. Conventional wisdom may say to get back to the basics and cut costs, especially during these economic times. But I can guarantee you that the winners are the innovators who are making bold thinking an everyday part of doing business. Breaking from convention should be part of the culture of a successful company since innovation must be understood and lived by all stakeholders, across the board. But it is a top-down process; so as the business leader, it is incumbent on you to set the tone within your company.
2. Embrace what works and discard what doesn’t: From time to time, we all have experienced the need to hold on to something even though it is no longer a good fit and/or is just not producing. Whether it’s a process or a staff member, or even old equipment, we sometimes want to just “wish it into success”, hoping it will take care of itself. The reality is that the longer you procrastinate, the deeper the damage. This year, let’s resolve to be on top of these problem areas and attack them head-on. Stop wasting energy and time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Accept that change is inevitable and the quicker you steer the helm back on course, the more successful your company and team members will be. To clarify, I’m not advocating that you go through your company with a goal to kick out people and processes on an ad hoc basis. I am avowing, however, that you realize the importance of keeping only that which is best suited to your success, and therefore eliminate the difficulty of retrenchment. Protect your corporate culture by vowing to keep the momentum going and to take action swiftly when it is called for. Likewise, keep the parts of the machine that are working well-oiled and primed such that they can continue to support your success.
3) Delegate for success: Learning how to “let go” seems to be a common challenge for many business leaders. I can admit I’ve struggled with this problem myself from time to time. After all, no one can do it quite as well as “we” can, right? Well, wrong -- yes they can! Successful leaders are those who can turn over control and delegate effectively so they can focus on the bigger picture of growing the company’s success. If you are beyond start-up phase and have a business staffed with professionals capable of handling their responsibilities, why get in their way? Delegation doesn’t mean not being aware of project status and deliverable dates. You can set up a reporting process to ensure you are in the loop. While delegation may be considered a challenging business approach by some, it is realistically a way for business leaders to get more done since it increases your productivity time and allows you to focus on growing the business, increasing revenue and innovation. Of course the caveat is that you must ensure that the people in place are capable of handling the responsibility. And if they are not, then you need to replace them with someone who is. Clearly, the solution is not to refrain from delegation but, instead, to build a capable team of professionals that will allow for this extremely important time-management process. Remember, your company is only as strong as your internal intelligence. So choose your stakeholders wisely, and then allow yourself to count on them to do their jobs.
4) You are your best advertisement: I like to think that the Liberty Tax Service team is pretty much a walking billboard, since they represent the company and its culture to the outside world. If you have a positive team, they will project this positivity and it will be obvious to the marketplace by the way they speak about the company and the enthusiasm with which they engage in their responsibilities. Can your stakeholders speak with confidence about your company? Do they understand the corporate goal and how to get there? Do they understand the customer and their needs? Do they project a sense of assurance in the leadership, the future and in your company’s success? Does your management team encourage innovation and solutions-driven engagement? If the answer is no to any of these questions, you just might be stomping on your own brand. People are always your best advertisement. Remember, good people attract other rich talent to your firm, who in turn attract more clients, since the quality of your product or service increases in synch with the level of committed professionalism your company exudes. Stakeholder enthusiasm is key to differentiating the ordinary company from the extraordinary. Our mantra at Liberty is to be extraordinary, and we realize that we need everyone on board with this goal or it will never be a reality. Commitment to positivity and innovation should be an “all the time, everywhere” imperative for your company. It is not something to take lightly, only discussing it at your annual management meeting. To be extraordinary, you must be so at all levels of the company. And the marketplace needs to see it to believe it. Remember, you have the power to change customer perception, so make sure your team is changing it in the right direction.
5) Do something good for your community: It goes without saying that if you take care of the community, it will take of you. Corporations have a responsibility to give back to their constituents and to do so in a meaningful and lasting way. In a somewhat discontinuous world, it is socially responsible and it does nothing but perpetuate the right impression about your commitment to the whole. At Liberty, we support numerous organizations, from M.A.D.D. to the American Red Cross and Relay for Life, from March of Dimes to Cell Phones for Soldiers, to name just a few. And it’s not just at the corporate level. Our family of Franchisees engages in cause-related programs throughout the tax season and into the summer months. As a matter of fact, our Hispanic initiative, Una Familia Sin Fronteras, which is based on providing FREE bilingual, fiscal and financial education to Latinos across the nation, holds seminars and workshops throughout the year, working with nonprofits and school districts through their Adult Outreach Programs. Making a difference in your community is immeasurable, and volunteerism should be a reflection of your corporate culture.
As we look to the future and ponder our options, it’s important to realize that there must be a balance between all innovation and systemic business models. There is nothing wrong with buoying your direction with standard business practices. Just be sure that you do not lose the enthusiasm to be extraordinary, to be unique, to be innovative, and to take intelligent risks. Breakthrough ideas are a requirement if you are to compete in today’s fast-paced business environment. If the power to set strategy and direction is narrowly held, your business options will be limited and corporate renewal will inevitably falter. After all, new voices are essential for new thinking!