This time of the year is marked by a frenzy of activity, both professionally and personally. The thoughts we had in September and October of looking to a new year with renewed enthusiasm and at least a plan in our head for making a few changes have evaporated by now.
I dare ask: What has happened in the last few months? It is so easy to get distracted from longer-term planning with the day-to-day tasks that have a way of becoming a list as long as Santa’s!
Well, it’s a new year, take a breath! Step back from the piles on your desk, they will get done, and collect yourself and your thoughts about looking ahead to 2012.
I challenge you to take some time now to jot down a few bigger picture questions you can focus on in 2012 to make your business better, healthier and more valuable. Here are a few I came up with when thinking about my clients in 2011:
- With the daily doom and gloom report, what’s in store? For anyone who is paying attention, we are constantly being bombarded with crisis after crisis from every possible form of media. Frankly, there are days that I just have to turn it off. I do try to stay informed of happenings, particularly those of an economic nature, because it is important to my work, but the constant focusing on the negative can perhaps jade our best thoughts on how to improve business in 2012.
I spent some time recently reading the economic reports published by the economists of Wells Fargo. Economic growth in the fourth quarter is off to a good start and inflation is decelerating some. While there aren’t many immediate good news surrounding the real estate and construction markets, Wells Fargo is forecasting commercial construction at 9.5 percent growth for 2012. Similarly, positive growth is expected in residential construction (4 percent) and corporate profits (6.3 percent). The Architectural Billing Index recently reported increased demand in commercial/industrial (53.5) and multi-family residential (51.3).
Similarly, the National Association of Home Builders reported an increase in their Homebuilder Confidence Index with a three-point rise in October, bringing it to its highest level since May 2010. Instead of listening to the talking heads on television with 15-second sound bites, find a few good economic references and read them. More in-depth information can give you a different perspective.
- Am I doing everything I can to fully understand business performance? This is such a critical issue for any firm owner or principal. In an article published in 2011, I discussed how only reviewing the previous month’s financials is not enough. Developing a dashboard report of financial ratios that will allow for comparison from month-to-month along with industry guidelines can provide valuable, deeper insight into company operations and why things may be a certain way financially. A habit of regular performance review can help identify areas of the business that need some tweaking to achieve overall positive financial results.
- Are our marketing activities really paying off or just making us feel better? This marketing question really runs the gamut with firms in the industry. If you have a developed marketing plan that you keep current and implemented, congratulations. It takes discipline to be consistent. Consider expanding the role of some of your star people to include involvement in marketing and client development if your firm tends to rely on only a few rainmakers. If your marketing activities just don’t seem to be as robust as they should be, perhaps you aren’t giving your team the right tools.
- Am I tending to my team well to ensure good, solid future leaders? As a firm owner or principal, it is easy to allow management development to slide down the list of business development “to dos,” but it is vital to the continuance of the business into the future. Depth of management helps to drive down risk from a valuation perspective. Additionally, a good management development program makes internal ownership planning much easier to implement and more effective in the long term.
- Am I leaving some time in my schedule for myself? A tired leader cannot be an effective leader over the long haul. Focusing on you and your health can pay big dividends for the business. When motivation is down and stress is up, it is difficult to maintain a positive trajectory, says Stever Robbins, the Get-It-Done Guy and successful entrepreneur. He believes sleep and good food are underrated and bypassing personal health time because of work overload is an all-too-common spiral. Maintaining your health as a firm leader has positive effects on the overall health of your firm.
I hope that I have created a spark or two for you to consider this new year. Sometimes it isn’t the biggest of plans that has the most impact; it is usually the combination of many little things that can lead to better days. Happy New Year!