Yaniv Masjedi is vice president of marketing at Nextiva, a leading provider of cloud-based unified communication solutions, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. He manages the firm's marketing and branding efforts and initiates programs related to brand management, demand generation, advertising, marketing communications and thought leadership.
Thanksgiving has come and gone, which means we are now the in the heat of advice-article click bait season. Undoubtedly, your Facebook feed is filled with stories telling you how to make 2016 your most profitable year, surprising lessons you can learn from 2015, five bad habits to break in the New Year and so on. To be clear, I'm not writing this piece to discredit the merits of those articles (you could argue that this story is click bait itself). Instead, I'm writing to tell you to tune inward instead of out when it comes to planning for your business in 2016.
Here are a few ideas to help you get back to the basics.
Talk to your employees.
Dedicate two full weeks to listen to your employees. If that amount of time is unsustainable for your workload, do it in chunks of two hours per day. Schedule one-on-one sessions with staffers from every department. These meetings don't need to last long -- just 15-20 minutes -- but present them as opportunities for employees to chat about what is working for them, what they'd like to see improve and where they are heading in their career.
Invite them to say anything without fear of retaliation. This isn't a performance review. This is your employees sounding off and you being willing to listen with full attention. If your employees can't meet in person or talk on the phone, send a survey via email.
We did this about a year ago and the results were staggering. Employees loved the concept that they could say whatever came to mind, and we appreciated the unfiltered feedback. From those meetings, we've made significant changes in the internal communications of our business. I'm sure if you instituted this practice, you'd find the same response and a genuine appreciation from your employees.
Consult your customers.
Go through your list of customers and identify a handful of them across industries. Now make a separate list of people to contact for a check-in. Include customers who are your favorites and those who make you cringe inside. Reach out to each person and speak with him/her for 10-15 minutes over the phone or, better yet, in person.
Don't try to sell them anything. Instead, just look for their feedback on your product, service and general business. Ask for frank answers to questions like: what do you think we are doing well? Where could we improve? What do you wish we did more/less of? What annoys you most about working with us? What do you love about working with us?
Get ready to be surprised. Exercises like these usually start out a little slowly, but once your customer realizes you're serious about wanting honest comments, you're sure to find yourself on the receiving end of an avalanche of opinions and advice. Document what they say and allow it to inform your decisions moving forward. You never know -- something they suggest may completely alter your business for the better.
Look at your own activities.
For some people, introspection can only be achieved after a few days away from the office. No problem. Make time for that -- maybe during your family holiday. Schedule a couple hours alone and really think about what you do at the office every day. What activities take up the lion's share of your time? Are those activities adding to your bottom line? If not, how could you change your actions or delegate? Look back at your calendar by month (or even by week) to see how you could improve your productivity moving forward.
Next, review your expenses. Where are you spending money and how could those charges be improved? Are there areas primed for cutting costs? What about parts of your business where you could add resources?
Finally, take an aerial view of your company and your life within your business. Spend time checking in with your gut and making a plan of action. With these basic steps, you are sure to have a profitable and transformative 2016.