Bozen – It is that time of year again. The long break is behind us and there is the need to generate enthusiasm and energy for the business year ahead. Yet, it is miserable outside, the days are still short, willpower is lacking, and Blue Monday – reported to be the most depressing day on the calendar – is looming. The eternal problem is how to spring in to the New Year and make the most of your business and your career in the months ahead. What about a resolution or two to get things moving? We are all too familiar with those individual decisions to give up something, to be more generous and considerate, and generally be the perfect human being from this day on, but what is the relevance of resolutions to businesses and how should owners and managers use the January days to best effect?
Of course, the soothsayer will say that it is already too late and such thoughts should have been part of an advance planning strategy initiated in October. Oh well, at the very least, thinking about the various aspects now might help prepare for next year. Starting with a look at the word ‘resolve’ is a useful aid in determining if we more concerned with the aspects of ‘finding a solution’ or ‘making a promise’ or ‘showing great determination’. Also historically, the connotations of the tradition of taking action at the beginning of a year are revealing. The Babylonians were quick to make promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans kicked off each year by expressing their good intentions to Janus after whom the month of January is named. The Irish apparently prayed that supplies of Guinness would be maintained. Despite the fascination of ancient traditions, it is probably best to limit our attention to the world of business and an analysis of the benefits, or drawbacks, of making resolutions is called for.
Certainly it is human nature to reflect on the passing of one year and the opening of the next and make some decision as to how one wishes to behave and what one wishes to achieve, but in the world of business, opportunities are always looked for to make a difference to things – to improve systems, to increase sales, to maximise the return from employees. This is the standard approach to things and as such cannot be ignored. The early weeks of January can be considered as ideal to introduce new working practices, to change the responsibilities of one member of staff or the other, and to establish new targets for the year ahead. These are all laudable objectives in their own right but they sniff of imposition and an attempt to put right what was wrong and to ‘resolve’ the unsatisfactory habits of colleagues and to generally make company focus more resolute. It is certainly true that if there had not been the courage or the skill to face certain issues in the months running up to Christmas the New Year scenario can provide a useful camouflage in an attempt to put things right and to provide a quick fix to the dilemma.
The easy option is of course to ignore the January moment and not regard it as a critical moment in one’s planning, smug in the belief that no resolutions are needed in that the overall company structure and sanity are beyond recrimination. As the cynic would say the only worthwhile resolution is that to make no resolutions. This interpretation would seem somewhat narrow and a denial of human nature for the individual staff members will have aspirations, or perhaps better termed ‘expectations’, and it is a brave manager or owner who totally disregards the occasion. Furthermore the Christmas period serves to recharge batteries and even when eating turkey and listening to the Queen’s speech ideas come to mind on how to do things differently and what to focus on in the year to come and it would be a waste not to air these in some form of January get-together
As in many other facets of company life, the burden on the decision maker in the organisation is not a light one. However, with a little fantasy and advance planning the most can be made of the ‘New Year moment’. There are various schools of thought on the matter, which attempt to approach the question in innovative and enterprising ways. One simple deviation from standard practice is to do away with the drunken office Christmas party and to organise a day or evening event in mid-January. This allows all to get rid of the cobwebs and to enjoy a meal together in uncluttered circumstances and thus make it more of a convivial occasion. Alternatively it can be developed as an ‘away day’ or ‘overnight’ event with the added value of less expense compared to mid-December and greater chance of interaction between staff with the hopefully consequential benefits. Add to this a training or incentive element for performance in the year ahead and the advantages are clear. Some go further, link in a cultural event to the mix (e.g. a visit to a museum or gallery, a guest speaker talk, a murder mystery event), and rely on the general bonhomie to work wonders for the year ahead. To harp back to company strategy and forecasting for a moment, January is a much better time to fix realistic budgets for the year rather than in the tired and aimless month of December. Indeed, there is much to be said for the hypothesis that the budget for the year should be fixed only upon conclusion of the early January meet, when the extent of resources and the market indicators are readily appreciated. The economic scenario nowadays is far different from decades ago when a 5-year plan was the order of the day for there is now a far greater need to react to trends, to identify what market requirements are and to respond accordingly. Only the very great can anticipate trends and far fewer anticipate them, but responding to trends in real time is a must and not an option.
Of course, different cultural norms come into play and what is acceptable in one country might be frowned upon in another – for example, a day at the horseracing might be popular in England but not the most appropriate activity elsewhere. Then again, there is the question as to how much and to what extent managerial teams should mix with the general personnel. Perhaps difficult to believe now but in many European countries there was a clear demarcation in these terms and even today outside of Europe such barriers to internal staff relations exist. Yes, it is very much a question of management style and preparedness. There may well come the day, a practice common in America already, that owners and managers interpret coaches and therapists to understand better their goals, find ways of motivating staff, and generally deal with the enigma of the New Year.
Another fascinating aspect of the conundrum is that more and more emphasis is being placed on the balance between work-life-play balance and consideration of company values and individual aspirations. This in itself represents more of a psychological input to the fixing of company objectives, definition of mission and vision, and evaluation of the human resource available. Clearly, an appreciation of what one is trying to achieve in terms of company or individual purpose and how best to reconcile this with personal aspirations can be a winning formula. Taking the analysis a step further the true motivational aspect is in the recognition and promotion of values. Examples of values one might rightly ask! Greater emphasis on the individual and focus on the integrity, conduct, accountability and collaboration are fertile areas for elaboration in the field of company ethics and values. Such thinking is bringing about a profound shift in company philosophy and represents a bridge in often-strained relations between management and staff. All in all there are a multitude of reasons for companies to focus more on the beginning of the year opportunity to listen to and transmit many thought processes related to effective relations in the workplace. The pieces of the jigsaw are not always easy to put together but by starting now in mid-January things might be in place for 2017.The author: Geoff Barclay spends much time in South Tyrol for business and pleasure, and his ‚Brain International Ltd‘ assists individuals, companies and organisations in their internationalisation process – via market entry and business development support and a range of services embracing training, translations, and language immersion abroad – all intended to better equip the interested party looking to expand horizons.
to loom: drohend näher rücken, (drohend) ins Blickfeld rücken, sich anbahnen
laudable: lobenswert, rühmlich
a sniff of: eine Nase voll
imposition: Zumutung, Auferlegung
smug: selbstgefällig, arrogant
to frown on/upon sth.: etw. missbilligen, nicht gerne sehen
conundrum: Rätsel, Scherzfrage
pieces of the jigsaw: Puzzleteilchen