A new year often brings new beginnings. I was intrigued to discover how one company used a novel way to motivate employees to think about new ways of doing things.

Here is the approach practiced by Chiyoji Misawa, who founded the largest homebuilder in Japan, Misawa Homes, more than 50 years ago. He "died" at least once every decade to combat the solidification of outmoded methods and thinking. He sent a memo to his company that formally announced "the death of your president."

According to Robert H. Waterman Jr. in his book "The Renewal Factor," this was Misawa's way of getting his company to question everything. When his employees would resist change, Misawa would declare: "That was the way things were done under Mr. Misawa. He is now dead. Now, how shall we proceed?"

I was particularly interested in this idea because so often the resistance to changes starts at the top. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But that thinking doesn't apply to improvements. Simply because things are sailing along, assuming that the winds won't change is dangerous business. When I went into the envelope manufacturing business decades ago, the notion of e-mail and the internet were pretty much science fiction. Yet it became one of the biggest challenges that an envelope manufacturer could face.

Being a great leader is not always about becoming an expert at everything — it's really about knowing where to find knowledge and expertise when you need it.

In turn, Misawa encouraged his workforce to learn how others approach new markets, revamp processes and resolve problems. Giving his employees the opportunity to offer their suggestions served several purposes: acknowledging their value to the company, encouraging them to think ahead and teaching them not to be afraid of change.

Change is inevitable, and those who embrace it are more likely to have staying power as each new year rings in.

New Year's resolutions tend to focus on areas that we know need a change. Make those resolutions too general or too sweeping, and chances are they will be your resolutions year after year. Alan C. Freitas, president of Priority Management, recommends that you write resolutions/goals that are SMART:

Specific — Decide precisely what you want to achieve, and by when;

Measurable — Know what a successful outcome would look like;

Attainable — Make your goals challenging, but achievable;

Relevant — Address areas of your work and life that are really important to you;

Trackable — Figure out how you're going to gauge your progress.

Getting into the right mind-set to make changes, large or small, takes some motivation.

Figure out why you want to achieve the goal. Make a list of all the ways you will benefit from achieving it. Whether it's a personal goal, like finishing a degree, or a professional change, such as breaking into a new market, you need to understand why it will be worth it to make a change.

Then analyze exactly where you are now in reaching that goal: the strengths that will help you, the weaknesses that could hurt you, and the opportunities you can use to attain what you want.

Next, you must determine what you will need to invest to achieve your goal. Whether it's time, money or something else, know what reaching this goal could "cost" you. Is it worth it? If it's important enough to you, sacrifices will pay off in the end. Just make sure that you have an end in sight.

Do your research. You may need to master new abilities to fulfill your resolution. Will you need to take classes to learn a new skill? What kind of information do you need access to? Are you willing to carve out the time it will require? You don't want to start something that you are not committed to finishing.

Look for support from family, friends, co-workers, managers or organizations that can help you. The more people who you share your resolutions or goals with, the more likely you will be to follow through on them.

You will have more success if you set deadlines for achieving your goals and resolutions. List specific dates on which you want to complete the various steps of the plan.

Finally, resolve to make it a happy new year.

Mackay's Moral: You don't have to "die" like Misawa to bring your dreams to life.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.