Another new list or a new lease on life?

A few days prior to reading this column and several days after, you will likely be inundated with a long list of New Year’s resolutions to attempt for your business. A few weeks go by and there is a high possibility that the list has been shortened somewhat to more manageable tasks.

A few months into the year and the same list would have most of the items crossed out except for two. Fast forward 11 months later, even with the two items still left unattended, many of you will be drawing up a new list on a new piece of paper during an overpriced management retreat, but very likely with the same goals on it.

Unlike individual resolutions that commonly include losing weight, quitting smoking, travelling more or writing a book, entrepreneurs’ pledges revolve around improving the performance of their companies and increasing productivity. Typically, these goals tend to involve a boost in sales activities, expanding marketing promotions, reducing operational wastage, or strengthening the workforce.

Despite being a definite sceptic of New Year’s resolutions, I was keen to ascertain if there were any fresh ideas hovering out there away from the usual run-of-the-mill aspirations. A few quick taps on the keyboard and the email query was dispersed to several work acquaintances and friends running their own business enterprises.

While most were the expected responses; achieve sales targets, meet more clients, cut down on electricity expenses, hire more staff, increase distribution channels, step up networking activities, and various other vows that all of us are familiar with, several initiatives came up on the screen that I thought were worth sharing.

Diana, who started a leadership training centre four years ago, declared that she has a list of 15 resolutions for her business for 2011. But top of the list would be to focus on getting each of her 12 employees to learn a new skill. She already has written commitments from her staff; to learn French, sign up for a marathon, bake a cheesecake, go scuba diving, write a book, and enrol in an MBA programme.

“The key is to get everyone to commit to something beyond their job scope as it has to be personal goal. I will put in place a mechanism, including peer mentoring and periodic evaluation, which would ensure that everyone is on track throughout the year until they achieve those goals,” she explained.

Unlike Diana, Jack, who runs a graphic design business, has only one goal this year, which is to listen more closely to his customers. Sure, you have heard this before, but how many SME owners actually put their heart completely into it? If they did, I would have ran out of sources to write on poor customer services and unfulfilled product expectations for this column!

Because his business is all about expressing what the clients want, Jack felt that he has not been listening — really listening — to them. Instead of always thinking about what to say next or being protective of his design ideas, he aims to make it a point to understand, ask more questions, empathize and most of all, build long-term relationships with his clients.

He remarked: “I also plan on conducting face-to-face and email surveys with my customers and my target markets on a quarterly basis to find out what they think about my company, services and also about my competitors. Getting this information would be very valuable to serve the market better.”

One resolution that did catch my attention — although he likely picked it up from the touching movie Pay It Forward featuring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and the adorable Haley Joel Osment — was simply about doing something good for 12 of his customers by the end of the year.

Roy, who inherited his father’s property management business, claimed that applying this following principle in his business was not about gaining more customers or about ringing up sales volume. It was purely about making the organisation and the world a better place to work and live in.

“All I will be doing is to make sure I help one customer a month throughout the whole year. It could be anything from giving advice, helping them out in a situation they are facing, or through my services. But it must be for free!

“In return, they have to repay it or pay-it-forward to another one of their customers. At the end of the day, from the initial 12 customers I have helped, each in return would have reached out to 12 of their own and so forth. It’s simple and everyone can do it!” proclaimed Roy.

While it is true that every entrepreneur can make a difference to their business and the world around them, it takes an exceptional one to sustain his or her commitment long after the Christmas eggnogs and New Year champagne have been flushed out of their system. Perhaps soon, we would have less people cutting down trees to write those same resolutions each year!

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