To Move Forward, First Look Back

The start of a new year is a natural time for business owners to look forward to strategies and initiatives that need to be executed in the next twelve months. If you’re like me, you probably hit the ground running when you got back to work, ready to bring energy and focus to the challenges ahead. However, it’s vital to take the time to review what worked—and didn’t—last year. Ideally, such a review would have been completed before New Year’s Eve, but with the rush to finish projects and hit goals, that doesn’t always happen.

That’s why, just after the year begins, I like to think about what my biggest take away was from the year before. What is the one thing that will influence me the most in 2017? It could be something I tried that proved promising, which I’ll do more of in the months ahead. Or, just as likely, something that didn’t work and which I need to stop doing. My takeaway from 2016 is the need to reduce overhead in ways that make sense. Though we got lighter in 2016 than in 2015, we were still heavy in overhead personnel, and we took on new software, which was also expensive. I see now that I need to continue to spend more money in the operations that generate us revenue and be smart about how we’re using our resources. Getting the most value for your investments seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not always easy to see at the time how lean or efficient you need to be.

In hindsight I see that we needed to shuffle responsibilities and use people in slightly different roles. Flattening the organization, taking out a layer of supervision or management where it’s not required, is an excellent way to keep costs down, while giving frontline people more responsibility to act on their own behalf. I was able to make the adjustments, but I should have acted more quickly. That’s the lesson I’ll carry into the months ahead.

Perhaps your take away is more positive. I have a friend who tried a small, new marketing initiative last year, thanking his clients with the gift of a specially sourced Ugandan coffee from a company called Three Avocados, which raises money to build wells in Africa. The enthusiastic feedback he got could lead to a take away of a different kind: a decision to spend more money.

The New Year is always a good opportunity to reevaluate and assess what we’re doing right and wrong as leaders of our organizations. How are we spending our time and resources? This isn’t so much a strategic plan as it is what Charles Duhigg calls a keystone habit. One concrete change can influence a pattern of action that influences the entire year ahead. So spend the time to reflect on your take away while last year’s lessons are still crystal clear.



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