It’s a new year, and with it, a new business landscape

Posted on Written by Jerald F. Robinson
Jerald F. Robinson

The ghosts and goblins have gone back into hiding. Thanksgiving has passed and Black Friday was light gray. Christmas shopping is over, and the retail merchants are crying while continuing to promote the large leftover inventory at bargain-basement prices.

On the other hand, many folks are anxiously awaiting the inauguration of the next president in a few weeks. Hopefully, no one really believes there is a magic potion the new leader brings to the nation. Yet, maybe he will. Economists tell us that a major driver of the economy is the psychological outlook of investors and consumers. At this point in time, it does appear that President-elect Barack Obama has selected a strong team to fight the various fires raging in our economy.

Before considering those New Year’s resolutions, let’s look at your team in 2009 as it prepares to face a possibly dangerous business year. What is the company’s strongest asset in facing the year(s) ahead? Its people? Its patents? Its location?

What is its weakest link as a business firm? Is this generally agreed upon? What will you do in the coming months to improve on this weakness?

What about you as a manager/leader? What is your greatest strength? How do you use it for your company’s enrichment? How could you use it better? Is there an area where you are weaker than you may need to be in the coming year? Perhaps more marketing skills? More financial skills? More community relations skills?

Now is the time to consider what you and your company management team are doing to prepare for 2009. What resolutions for the new year are on your company agenda? What about your own personal New Year’s resolutions? Compare your plans with the ideas I have gathered from some business leaders in my recent travels.

• Resolve to keep your eye on the ball: Yes, the ball has moved since this time last year. The business landscape has changed. It is changing faster than the year before and becoming more chaotic and less predictable. Only the business firm that stays fully aware of the current environmental changes will survive. The new credit arrangements needed for business have changed the way many firms will do business. What kind of strategic plan have you developed? What are the best attributes you have as a company? What particular talents do you have on board? Where do you want this company to be in five years? Surviving? Surely, but that is not a good answer. What does your company need to do to get ahead five years from now? Do you have the vision in your mind of how your company will be different in five years and — oh my goodness — maybe even in 2019. Given the market conditions, you must be looking ahead and planning more. Need help? There are many consultants, but often the closest and of best value could be a business faculty at your local community college or state university. A beneficial ongoing relationship may develop. The professors are always looking for real-world situations to use as examples, and they may have the time at minimal cost to form a mutually beneficial pact.

• Resolve to keep your employees aware of just how the company is doing and its plans for facing the future: Yes, your employees are quite nervous about their future and their family’s future. Even managers are known to have certain feelings of insecurity at times of uncertainty, like in 2009. Communication consultants today are urging all employers to have regular meetings with the management staff and also with employees to give regular updates on business conditions and future outlook. Some managers fear that by relaying bad news, the employees may look for other work. In situations like today, telling the whole story is more likely to build support and loyalty. More frequent communication is better than no communication. If there is little or no communication, the worst-case scenario is assumed by employees.

• Resolve to identify your own “emerging” weaknesses in business and management: Yes, they are more visible this year than last. Let me suggest a few things to look for. Dr. Dan Harrison, from Australia, has developed techniques not only in identifying requisite behaviors of successful managers, but also those behaviors that foretell impending failure. Is there any hint that any of the following behaviors may be yours? Defensive? Blindly optimistic (not considering environmental changes or pitfalls in a decision)? Impulsive? Skeptical of the future? Dogmatic? Forceful enforcing (strict to the last decimal)? Harsh? Blunt (uses no diplomacy)? These behaviors can be deeply rooted, yet they can be overcome. Your human resources staff may be able to offer counsel; or feel free to drop me an e-mail, and I will share some ideas for you privately and confidentially.

• Resolve to find something good each week: If your own supervisors or employees have done really well, tell them how much that effort is appreciated. While this is always a desirable quality in a manager, it is especially needed at this time of uncertainty. Author Bob Nelson has written a series of books on the topic of recognizing and rewarding employees. If you have not read one of them, rush to the bookstore or to Amazon.com and get your hands on a copy this week. Adaptation to your own environment is the key in its use.

• Resolve to attend a business/ management/marketing conference in 2009, even at your own expense: While attending the sessions, continue your networking efforts and come away with at least five or six new names (and business cards) with whom you can communicate about business issues. Networking is a critical part of management today. Key to success is a regular maintenance of the networking list. Monthly/quarterly contacts are essential to keeping your network alive and useful. Most job searches and placements today are made in this manner.

• Resolve not to use e-mail as a major communications vehicle: Research now tells us the human/interpersonal interaction suffers greatly. The ability to motivate is based on the human interaction foundation. Let’s not allow the e-mail convenience to substitute for the continual building of improved interpersonal relations in the workplace.

• Resolve to banish negative thinking in the workplace: Continual negative thinking often leads to stress. The trick is in learning to change the way you think. Instead of even thinking about meeting sales, production or cost-reduction goals, work on developing an action plan (a positive thought). In a recent stress study, it was found that our stress level depends on how we perceive what is happening to us. Positive thinking can be a major force in reducing stress. Such brain activity reduces the physical symptoms of stress by reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure and reducing muscle tension. And it also improves concentration and improves productivity. Develop your own list of positive things to think. Avoid negative thinking for all.
Will you make some of these resolutions work for you? Let me know which ones you choose.

Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus — international management at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: JFR@vt.edu

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.

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