Businesses that inspired in 2012 - and why

As 2012 draws to a close the word Manaung causes furrowed brows among businessmen. The United States is at the edge of a fiscal cliff that some Mediterranean countries have already jumped from.

“It’s easy to feel cynical about business, and to see the successful as spoilt, uncaring brats thinking only about the next car, or how to squeeze more out of their workers for less,” said Liza van Wyk, CEO of AstroTech Training, one of South Africa’s largest management training companies in southern Africa.

“But every week day we experience extraordinary people coming through our doors grappling with how to produce more while treating employees better – because there is no doubt that motivated, well-cared for staff drive companies.

But they can’t drive a company if a clear path hasn’t been mapped for it by executives so we thought we’d take some advice from top businesspeople this year and present it as ways to inspire business and those who work for them in 2013 – it has to be a better year than this really tough year.”

She said that based on views culled from executives these were the top tips for businesses to succeed in 2013:

• Prioritize. “A mistake that companies and individuals make either when facing challenges or when very successful is they take their eye off their core purpose and start entering different fields. This often tends to dilute the effectiveness of either the individual, or the company. Its better to step back, take a hard look at what you do best, and focus on that: how can you do it better? Or ask: If you could do only one thing, what would it be?” Van Wyk said.

• Keep moving. “Sometimes companies become so flushed with success that they stop and spend too much time focusing on what they just did right (or wrong). They should take a leaf from publishers, when publishers sign a successful author they demand two books, the one they have in hand, and one that the author has yet to write. If the first book is successful, the author’s name is still fresh in the public’s mind when the next comes out, which guarantees good sales for the second book.
You should follow success with the next innovation that will surprise your customers and leave a sense that you or your company are dynamic and always ready with something new. Apple is good with this, so is Woolworths.”

• Surround yourself with good people. “Human resources is not given enough value,” Van Wyk said. “The best HR people recruit staff with values that complement those of the organization, it’s not just about the number of degrees or skills a person has. And clever companies create a happy, rewarding work environment, because like all the best families, if you’re happy where you are, you’ll stay, pay is secondary.”

• Optimism ensures success. “Albert Einstein said: ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’ CEOs who have a positive outlook attract can-do staff, and project confidence in their company; whereas those who see only clouds are more likely to have demoralized staff and anxious customers.”

• Research your environment. “Know your clients, understand their lives and the pressures they face, be sensitive to what gives them joy, respond quickly and courteously to complaints, understanding that those give you the opportunity to improve your business. Too often management fails in these tasks,” Van Wyk said.
“They spend a fortune on costly outside research organizations when it would be far cheaper and more effective for them to use all staff, from the CEO down in speaking to their customers, and in doing everything they can to encourage dialogue with clients. In South Africa we tend to discourage complaints, or be rude, when those complaints are early warning systems that tell us where we are failing, and where we need to improve.”

• What are the best ways to rouse ambition and open the fields of opportunity? “Staff that see clear career paths work harder, but it also means the company needs to help them learn better with courses and funding educational opportunities.
Companies get more from this process if they have deliberate in-house networking events where new skills learned are shared, or feedback is given in skills- sharing groups at all levels in a company. Shared ideas help spur innovation.”

• Relationships matter. “In these financially stressed times, and indeed throughout your career you’ll get far if people trust you, if they know you are honorable and reliable, and that comes from sometimes doing things for nothing, or doing more than what is expected of you.”

She gave some of her favourite CEO lessons of 2012:

• Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, the professional networking site said, “We are only as valuable as the value we create for members.”

• Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook said Eric Schmidt of Google told her when she joined it a decade ago: “When companies are growing quickly and having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”
Van Wyk said, “what I liked about this is that Sandberg took a lesser job than what she was qualified to do, and today she is a billionaire. She made a short term sacrifice to earn a long term bonanza.”

• Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first woman president who took office this year, “inspired by quickly moving against corruption, everyone said she would come under pressure for her brave steps, instead she has lifted confidence ratings in that country in the eyes of the world, and is seeing good results.”

• “I also look at the amazing results of our Paralympic Team this year in the London Olympics with 29 medals including eight golds, these are people who could sit at home complaining, but they don’t, they get up every day, work out, show discipline and make us all proud,” Van Wyk said.

“Over the last decade and a half AstroTech Training has seen the face of business change, from being primarily white males at the top to men and women of every hue, every age, and range of educational experience. Business has never been more exciting because we’ve learned that challenges create opportunities, you just need to know how to see and exploit them, and only education enables that,” Van Wyk said.

For more information contact Liza van Wyk, CEO Astrotech.

What do you think?
What other practices or essential for the success of the business?

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