the ceo magazine, business management,

Each year clients hire me to help them make tough decisions, but in the process, I learn as much as they do. Some of the things I discovered this year reinforced lessons I discovered previously, but every year brings surprises too. Here are my recommended New Year’s resolutions for anyone who wants to improve a business in 2016:

1. Don’t pay underperforming employees handsomely to leave your organization. Use the funds to attract top talent to replace them.

At some point, senior leaders developed the misguided notion that they have to pay to terminate employees. Laws vary on termination, but one thing seems clear: most companies have gone too far in their efforts to avoid lawsuits. In addition to costing dearly, these practices send the message that bad performance will be rewarded.

2. Don’t deviate from your core values, or you’ll compromise your self-respect.

Most of my clients have a list of espoused values (what we say we believe) and a notion of operating values (how things are done around here). When the gap between the two narrows, tough decisions become easier because leaders have learned to make their decisions based on their core values—the intersection of what we believe and how we behave.

3. Let simplicity win.

People often complicate in order to reduce their fear of failure, to seem smart, or to justify their existence. Remember Occam’s Razor: the fewest assumptions should be selected—the fewer the better—even though more complicated conclusions might also prove correct.

4. Don’t blame culture.

“Culture” has offered a too-simple, too-subtle, too-convenient defense for just about everything but has clarified almost nothing important. Leaders improve when they consider the beliefs that create culture, the tough calls that drive it, and its ties to business results.

5. Live in harmony with ambiguity but communicate with crystal clear clarity.

Uncertainty scares most people, but successful leaders aren’t most people. My best clients not only live with doubt; they often do their best work when immersed in it. Uncertain outcomes demand risk taking and a love of conquering. But most successful leaders also realize that many employees are risk-averse and do their best work in predictable environments.

6. Rely on HR for advice, not essential decisions.

Strong leaders listen to all their advisors and then make the decisions themselves.

The clients who had the most successful years relied heavily on the advice of their senior HR person, but they started with an exceptional professional in that position in the first place. Clients who had the worst years had questionable HR people in place, and then they relied unrealistically on them to make complicated decisions.

7. Demand change, or it usually won’t happen.

The pain of change happens immediately. The reward of change lies in the future—ambiguous and unpredictable.

8. Abandon indecision.

Indecision usually carries no short-term penalty, so deciding not to decide becomes a seemingly safer default position.

9. Scare the competition.

It changes the game in the industry and transforms your internal mindset too.

10. Pursue success, not perfection.

Perfection is the enemy of success. Leaders who held out for the perfect job candidate, perfect time to make a change, or irrefutable evidence that someone needed to go lost valuable time and resources.


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