We are wrapping up 2013. For some, it was a great year. Some struggled through. Some didn’t make it. The economy hasn’t improved though we are adjusting to the new standards. As government points to Wall Street and interest rates as the indicators of recovery, those of us with businesses know better. It wasn’t a smooth year.

Next year could be better. It could be a lot better for your business if you spend the final week of the year doing a few things that will make 2014 a better year.

For your business to see improved results, your customers will have to see an improved business. Foreign competition continues to hack away at market share and margin. We’ve been “lean” and we’ve been cutting costs for the past few years but we have failed to improve and differentiate. Let’s get started.

There are three parts of business that have atrophied. They are critical to success and growth and we have let them whither. They are Ethics, Education and Excellence.

Greed and ethics are in a perpetual struggle. Unfortunately, greed has won. Too many businesses put profit ahead of people. Yes, business is supposed to be about profit. True. But profit needs to be balanced with the ethical treatment of employees and customers. When the people doing the work are treated with respect, when they have a voice in the operation, when they feel valued, they are more loyal and productive. Study after study prove this. Simply asking asking people what they think improves morale. When people feel they have no control over their circumstances, they become discouraged and they slow down.

Customers feel this too. Actively listen to customers. Treat your customers ethically.

Do you invest in the education of your employees? I said education, not training. Training is usually not educational. Teaching someone how to do a repetitive task is not education. That’s training. You teach a dog to sit on command. You educate employees to think. Employees know the difference. They know, “we are here because they want more from us.”

Consider bringing in some interesting teachers this year. A 2 two hour talk on art or music won’t hurt your business. A workshop on problem solving or science could spark a thought that generates thousands of dollars. Education encourages thinking.

Sadly, most businesses don’t want thinking. They want silent compliance. If that is the environment at your business, leave while you can on your own terms. The business that doesn’t want smarter people and doesn’t want to listen to ideas is running on borrowed time. The world is changing fast and there are millions of enthusiastic, educated and highly motivated foreigners who will displace your business. All education is beneficial.

We have made the word a meaningless part of our meaningless mission statements. Get up, walk around and look for excellence. Excellence is not “acceptable”. Excellence is looking, finding and doing better. Is your work that good? Or, is your work “acceptable”? Is the work your businesses produces excellent or acceptable? How is the quality control?

What were those things to do this week?

  • Ethics: Treat your people better in 2014. Start by listening to them now. Walk around and ask questions. Your time means a lot to them.
  • Education: Spend this week looking for interesting education programs to bring in to your business. Book a couple of guest speakers. Be bold, be interesting. They should be unusual. Don’t bring in “trainers”. Bring in educators.
  • Excellence: Look for small improvements you can make now. Small improvements aggregate to big results. It’s true. It’s cheap. Look for improvements. Ask for suggestions from employees and customers.

Finally, look at yourself. What can you do better as a manager or owner?

Communicate. Learn to communicate better. This is the single biggest stress that people express in the workplace: “I just never know what [he] wants.”

I work with, and have stopped working with, people who simply cannot communicate even though they believe in their own abilities. Those businesses will fail over time. Too bad.




Chris Reich, TeachU