Professional Development

The business habits that will set you up for success in 2017

Emma Koehn /

February and March are make-or-break months for all those New Year’s resolutions you made in order to stay on top of the little things in 2017.

However, keeping good habits across all elements of your business—and empowering staff to see these through—is something too few company owners commit to, as two management experts explained in Harvard Business Review last week.

Professors Jonathon Trevor and Barry Varcoe of Oxford’s Saïd Business School explain that through their work, they’ve found even though founders know how important an organisational vision is to their company’s success, too many fail to sit down to work out how their everyday use of resources, systems and teams actually drive them towards that goal.

Keeping your actions in line with the desired end result is a key priority for the businesses SmartCompany has spoken to this week.

Resimax Property Group founder Ozzie Kheir says one of his big goals for the year ahead is to limit his focus only to new opportunities that make sense for his business goals in the long run.

“I am trying to break a habit of acquiring, buying or engaging in every good opportunity presented to me. With limited time and resources, I have to curate the businesses I align with,” Kheir says.

But as diaries get squeezed and meetings pile up, how can you make sure each part of your business operates in a way that helps it grow? We asked business owners, as well as experts in HR, social media, marketing and business strategy, about the best habits to make and break before the year gets away from you.

Focus on flexibility and time out—for yourself and your staff 

Many business owners say they’re after flexibility and down time in the year ahead in order to make sure they have the time needed away from their projects to gain a new perspective.

“I’m so consumed with work all the time that I’m actually trying to create some positive family time this year,” says Podpac founder Toby Strong.

Strong is also aiming to slow down and focus on fewer new ideas.

“Sometimes I find myself spread too thin chasing many opportunities at once, which can lead to inefficiencies in the business,” he says.

Dyson Bikes co-founder David Metzke is also keen to put a limit on shop talk this year, and carve out time for other things.

“One new habit I am trying to implement is balancing the time I spend working on or thinking about the business,” Metzke says.

“In the last three years I have taken calls at all hours, on Sundays, on holiday—you name it—to answer questions and help customers looking at purchasing a new bike or answering a query from an existing owner. I don’t regret doing it, but in the long run I know this won’t be good for my health and would be nice to see my kids growing up!”

It’s not just company founders that benefit from losing the rigid mindset and adopting a more flexible approach to their work. Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial survey looked at flexible work practices, including individualised start times and work from home practices, and found these practices are not only valued by younger workers, but these workers also recognise the positive effects on their productivity and overall wellbeing.

Flexibility in scheduling and acknowledging that staff have lives outside work could even promote higher levels of loyalty towards your business, say leadership experts. 

Don’t ignore niggling concerns

There’s been plenty to worry about at the start of 2017, from Australia’s wobbly retail climate to global political developments, but there’s one trick experts suggest will lead to long term productivity: responding to problems now.

When it comes to cash flow, it’s critical you don’t put your head in the sand when something looks worrying, Michael Stapleton from the Association of Virtual CFOs told SmartCompany last week. In this case of the high profile companies that have entered voluntary administration so far this year, Stapleton says it’s likely management would have been able to see problems mounting from as early as a year before administrators were called in.

“It’s finally caught up for them. I would say there’s multiple years of bad trading, overhang of inventory,” Stapleton says.

“If you’ve got a problem, you’ve got to clear it, early on.”

Swift action isn’t just important for financial indicators; putting off tough conversations with staff or letting small problems fester is equally bad for your progress, says wattsnext HR founder Sue-Ellen Watts.

“We regularly receive SOS calls to help clients with people problems that would never have got to the dire state they are in had they dealt with it when it was not a big deal,” Watts wrote in a recent piece for SmartCompany.

“It is so much harder to performance manage an employee, turn around a toxic culture, or manage a complaint when it has been ignored for so long that the straw broke the camels back.”

Map out your digital strategy

Savvy digital marketing will be as important as ever in 2017, but Social Concepts founder and digital strategist Jessica Humphreys says while enthusiasm for all things digital is likely strong in many businesses at this early stage of the year, too few actually knuckle down to get sustained results.

“I think I would say a large number of businesses don’t have a proper strategy—they have not documented one. They end up doing social for the sake of social,” she says.

This can mean business owners waste energy trying to engage with online audiences without a daily goal in mind, often at times or on platforms where their prospective clients aren’t even online.

A better approach is to stay disciplined and give yourself structured targets, even if it’s just a one page plan.

“My recommendation is that it would be a specialist role within an organisation, but it’s really important to have everyone involved,” Humphreys says.

InsideOut PR director Nicole Reaney says disciplined marketing policies can’t happen before you’ve got a clear picture of your customer base.

“Start with your customer groups, whether that’s consumers, other businesses or both, and develop a campaign that works to achieve your key objective for that segment,” Reaney says.

And with any digital plan, work out the aim before simply clicking “post” and hoping.

“Start at the end point: What is the single brand message or outcome you want conveyed to the public this year?” Reaney asks

Maintain a feedback loop

Don’t let the day-to-day operations of your business swallow you up before you’ve had a chance to develop good feedback routines, says director of HR Staff ‘n Stuff, Deborah Peppard.

“It seems to be less and less of a priority that people need to be valued and given feedback at the beginning of the year,” Peppard says.

“I think that people don’t do it because they’re not sure how, or they’re used to environments where the only time you hear from someone in management is when something’s gone wrong.”

However, creating an actual structure around constructive feedback can make sure your staff stay motivated and keep acting in a way that contributes with the overall short-term goals of the business, Peppard says.

“I have a rule for my clients of a ’10-to-1′ rule,” she says.

“For every one piece of negative feedback, they give 10 positives.”

If you haven’t done so already, Peppard says now’s the time to review the big wins of the past year and highlight what success will look like over the next six months, so everyone’s individual actions work towards that.

“Do people understand their role in the big picture? Like, ‘how do my daily actions contribute to the goals of the business?’”

Understanding how everyone’s value adds to the overall goal can help you keep loyal employees going for longer, Peppard says.

“I want people to come back excited to be at work,” she says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.