Time To Take Inventory

In our ongoing series of guest columns, Launch Tennessee’s CEO Charlie Brock this week offers entrepreneurs and business owners some advice on how looking back can help company leaders to move forward.

By Charlie Brock

I love the time of year between Christmas and the New Year. The Christmas season is a special time of year to be with family and friends and that’s part of why I enjoy this season. However, I also relish it because some of the day-to-day business activity slows down and, as the calendar turns to a new year, there is time for reflecting upon the past year and setting goals for the upcoming year.

At our former family business, Brock Candy Company, we closed the plant between Christmas and the New Year and used this time to take year-end inventory. I have since adopted the idea of “taking inventory” as part of my personal and business routine for this time of the year. For me, “taking inventory” includes taking stock of the people, activities and outcomes that comprised the past year, as well as setting goals – both business and personal – for the year ahead.

Successful entrepreneurs get help from many different sources and the end-of-year is an excellent time to thank the people who helped you or your company grow, such as mentors, employees, investors, board members or even spouses who allowed you to chase your passion, which often entailed 60+ hour work weeks. Being grateful is a wonderful trait, so let people know that their time and commitment to you and/or your organization are appreciated.

As you look ahead, what desired achievements are on the list? I like to think about this in terms of professional, family and personal goals. Furthermore, what “habits” will I need to develop or maintain to meet these goals? For example, I will not achieve one of my personal goals of finishing a half-marathon if I don’t initiate the habit of running two to three times a week.

From a company standpoint, hopefully your revenue, profit and cash targets are in place for 2014, as well as the plans needed to make them a reality. Again, though, think about what “habits” each employee needs to achieve the desired results.

Additionally, I suggest the following four broader topics for assessment:

1) Alignment - Is there alignment between the board, investors, management team and employees? I suggest having all stakeholders answer the question, “What would success look like for us on Dec. 31, 2014?” You might also ask the same question for three years out. The variety of answers you receive will let you know what needs to be done to get everyone on the same page.

2) People, Culture - As noted in the classic business book, Good to Great, it’s crucial to have the right people in the right seats on the bus. People and culture are the best, and most sustainable, competitive advantage. Make sure your company is staffed with passionate employees who are given the tools and environment to be successful. As the leader, how do you become an exceptional one (Jim Collins calls these Level 5 leaders) who inspires action and collaboration with the appropriate mix of ambition and humility?

3) Strategy - Are the company and its employees doing the right things to succeed in the marketplace? This speaks to the company’s strategic decisions as well as to each employee’s priorities on a quarterly, monthly, weekly and, even, daily basis. The book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits provides excellent tools to get everyone on the same page and make sure that there is accountability and communication at all levels of the organization.

4) Effectiveness - Are you doing things right? How effectively are the strategies being implemented? For example, most organizations are actively using social media for marketing – is the messaging on target and hitting the desired audience? For a manufacturing company, are the production lines being optimized for full capacity in a way that produces the desired quality in the necessary timeframe?

For all of your goals – business and personal – it’s most important that you a) write them down; b) make them measurable; and c) commit to assessing your progress at quarterly intervals throughout the year. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments mid-stream. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Charlie Brock is CEO of Launch Tennessee (www.launchtn.org), a public-private partnership focused on supporting the development of high-growth companies in Tennessee with the ultimate goal of fostering job creation and economic growth.

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