This time of year I find myself writing many lists -- holiday gifts to purchase, greetings cards to send, and New Year's resolutions to strive for. In the same way that we all use lists in our personal lives to maintain relationships, reflect on the past year, and set our course for the upcoming year, we need to do the same thing when it comes to business.
In the current recession, it's more important than ever to take stock of your business. As the year comes to an end, determine how the business is going, what you are doing that's working and what you need to change. Employees are the number one asset of an organization and are critical for business success, particularly in tough times. In a recent survey we conducted of small and mid-sized New England firms, we found that 56 percent of these businesses believe the greatest impact of the economic downturn is its effect on employee morale -- even outweighing their concerns about decreased revenue and sales.
How is the morale of your employees? Conduct an employee satisfaction survey and solicit their feedback. Look back and consider your relationships with employees. How have you fared? What is your retention rate and what other measures of satisfaction are you using? How often do you tell employees that they are valued and how do you truly demonstrate that? Do you offer them opportunities for training and development that will challenge them to acquire new skills? How about giving employees flexibility to address personal needs and have a work/life balance? Determine merit, promotional, and adjustment budgets for next year's salary increases. Review job descriptions with managers and make any necessary salary adjustments, and update incentive plans for employee bonus programs.
There are other strategic and tactical issues to consider as well. Are your benefits in order? Are you offering benefits that are not only in compliance with regulations, but will also attract top talent? Have you handled the appropriate housekeeping tasks to key up your benefits for the coming year, including submitting medical, dental, and FSA enrollment forms to your insurance company, and notifying employees of changes to 401(k) contributions, Social Security Wage base, or to any other benefits? It's also time to reevaluate operations to insure you are in compliance with local and federal regulations.
Next, assess your relationships with customers. Keeping your customers happy is probably one of your top priorities right now. Assess your client retention rate -- has it been improving or sliding? Are there any issues you should address or opportunities for adding value? Consider asking clients to fill out a formal report card once a quarter requesting their feedback in several areas: account service, skills, results, etc. That way you can keep your fingers on the pulse of your clients, act before a small issue becomes a larger problem, and avoid unpleasant surprises.
The end of one year and the beginning of the next is a good time to reflect. What went well? What can be improved? Where are you taking your company and how can you invest in your employees to help get you there? Your relationships with employees and customers are invaluable -- especially in today's business climate, and it will lay the groundwork for growing your business as future opportunities open up.