Nearly a half million businesses operate in Minnesota, with 330,000 of those employing only the owner/operator. Regardless of size, my experience is that all of them share the desire to succeed, both in the short term and the longer term for the benefit of their communities, employees as well as the owners.
In my work over the last four decades as both an employee and as a hands-on management consultant, I've noted certain common qualities of thriving business and business leaders.
Company ownership must, above all else, share a positive attitude and take responsibility for business results. This is a central tenant in creating a company culture that attracts employees who will be successful in that business.
Integrating consistent customer service into the business culture — through training, design and frequent redesign — is a critical focus for success.
A business plan isn't the only thing necessary to achieve success but it sure helps.
Years ago, one CEO said he wanted to better "plan our work and then work our plan; can you help us?" I told him that even a less than complete plan that was well executed is far superior to the well-crafted business plan that is mere window dressing. A good business plan defines and drives the activities and behaviors of the entire organization.
A sound business must create a realistic financial plan including both projected income and necessary expenses. Such an exercise is the cornerstone to a successful business plan. This financial road map must remind the workforce where and how to spend its money along with scheduled intervals (at least twice a year, often quarterly) to measure progress or shortfalls and adapt changes, as necessary.
Business discipline is not solely about reacting to market changes and adjusting your core strategy. Ninety percent of the time, it is about executing the planned strategies and then staying the course. It's about attention to core markets and honestly measuring success as defined by your business strategy.
Successful business owners aren't afraid to take calculated risks with clear outcomes in mind. Most business leaders who take risks do so because they recognize the need as the economic climates change.
Successful business leaders know that being in business is often about responding to change. Likewise, successful companies must respond to challenges presented by the market, the competition or unexpected general business conditions.
Without exception, every successful business owner I've advised understands that they can't know everything and they actively search out people they trust. Some CEOs hire key staffers for this essential advice. Others, mostly in smaller or startup companies, create nonpaid advisers from within their network who can offer important insights in confidence.
Work-life balance is also essential. Along with the long hours needed to oversee and grow their businesses, the wise business leader recognizes the need for nonscheduled time. One Fortune 100 company where I worked in a stressful business-development position understood that a high level of physical activity often resulted in workplace success. By lowering both blood pressure and stress, employees can better address personal and workplace challenges.
Of course, working out isn't the only activity that increases job performance. Creative endeavors like reading, writing and playing music can have a similar effect. In fact, research published in Psychology Today found scientists who pursued a creative hobby were more likely to achieve Nobel Prizes. The implied effect — that these hobbies increase cognitive efforts — is highly advantageous in the business environment.
"I have a theory that burnout is about resentment," Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer wrote for Bloomberg, explaining her view on the concept. "And you beat it by knowing what it is you're giving up that makes you resentful. I tell people: Find your rhythm. Your rhythm is what matters to you so much that when you miss it you are resentful of your work."
The bottom line: Business leaders must define their own plan for work-life balance by developing useful habits that allow them to navigate both their professional and personal lives.
Chuck Slocum is president of the Williston Group, a management consulting firm. He is a former corporate business planner and executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.
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