Resolving to be more resolute next year the bottom line

For the resolution-challenged, some advice on learning to get things done right, taking care of people and knowing when to just let go

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 4:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 4:01am

Thank goodness it's a short working week because I am pretty sure that I can just about get to the end of it without breaking any of those resolutions we are supposed to make at the beginning of each year.

Anyway, for readers, like me, who are resolution-challenged, I hesitantly offer my New Year resolutions for doing business in 2014:

  • First, I really will try to be more patient. Although there is something rather attractive about the notion of getting things right now, I kind of feel that there are many things that cannot be done right away and indeed would benefit from more temperate action. If you are in business for the long term, getting things done right is surely more important than getting things done quickly.
  • Second, this is something of a mystery because, like many people, I just don't seem able to learn from my own mistakes. I have no intention of embarrassing myself by detailing all the mistakes I have made in business - besides, there is a matter of space constraints - but the real problem is far too many of them are repeated mistakes.
The truth almost always is that … giving yourself more time away from the business often produces better and more creative results

Trying to analyse why this is so involves some tricky psychological questions, most of which are above my pay grade, but I suppose the bottom line is that it is really hard to overcome fixed ideas of how things should be done. Say, for example, you really believe that product X is what customers want, not least because it worked before. So you get rather committed to this product only to find that the wretched punters are not even vaguely interested.

The blunt facts are that it is not the customers who are at fault for not appreciating the value of the product; the problem lies with commitment to something whose shelf life has expired, if it ever had a shelf life. You need the will to replace it with a better product ASAP.

  • Third, I reckon it's a good idea to focus on the simple truth that most business starts and finishes with people. This seems pretty obvious but it is very easy to get carried away with spreadsheets, detailed planning and all that other stuff which simply assumes that people can be slotted into the fine figures and words set out on paper. Mainly it's the other way around with more or less everyone from customers to employees to suppliers. What matters first and foremost is how you interact with them.
  • Fourth, and this is hard for small and medium-sized businesses, a resolution needs to be made to stop looking at marketing and advertising primarily from a cost point of view as opposed to identifying the opportunities it may produce. A change of mindset is required to see these activities as investments in business expansion.

This seems rather obvious but for people operating smaller companies there is an understandable focus on minimising expenditure while not quite appreciating the investment value of intangibles like marketing because the results are so unpredictable and so hard to quantify. Thus there is a tendency to focus on tangibles, like plant and equipment, at the expense of putting your money into things that will yield better returns from all that plant and equipment.

  • Fifth, there is something that everyone who runs their own business knows a lot about but somehow pushes to the back of their minds. This is the need to step back, take more time off and become less obsessive about your business. One of the paradoxes of being a boss is that you have the liberty to control much of your own time and the authority to decide when you want to do certain things. However, this liberty and authority are rarely used to full effect because too many of us feel that we need to be at it as much as possible, maybe to provide a good example or maybe out of a reluctance to delegate or maybe simply because we are deluded into overemphasising the centrality of our roles.

The truth almost always is that stepping back and giving yourself more time away from the business often produces better and more creative results. In case you haven't noticed, all this amounts to a resolution to take more time off and, perhaps, even have more holidays. In many ways this should be the easiest of resolutions to keep but I rather suspect that for many business people it will be airily dismissed as a nice but impracticable idea.

Stephen Vines runs companies in the food sector and moonlights as a journalist and broadcaster