As we entered 2012 and the new calendar year, people up and down the country were undoubtedly taking a long hard look at themselves, and thinking about what they would like to change. They may have resolved to lose a little weight, stop smoking, drink less, exercise more or may have made any number of resolutions and good intentions for the year ahead. As 2012 draws on however, the majority of people will have already broken these resolutions and left their good intentions behind. With April approaching, and the majority of companies entering a new financial year, now is the time for businesses up and down the country to take a long hard look at themselves and ensure that they, too, are fit and healthy, ready for what the new financial year may bring.

As companies are following through on their resolutions, and attempting to get and then stay fit, they are faced with a plethora of choices. In many cases there are so many areas that may need changes or tweaks that it is often difficult to prioritise and work out what to tackle in which order.

Reflect upon the year gone by
When a company decides it wants to get fit, the first place to start should be by reflecting back on the previous year and its strategies to ensure they are still appropriate for the environment in which it is operating. Just as a person looking to get fit needs to look at themselves with a critical eye to see their problem areas – be it their diet or not doing enough exercise – so does a company need to look to itself and its problem areas to see where they need to make the change. The key to getting fit, whether personally, or as a business, is recognising that there are certain areas where you can do better. Over time, processes become inefficient, and errors creep in, so it’s essential to look at the organisation and check you’re doing things in the best possible way.

All too often, organisations are operating under old structures which may have worked in the past, but find, now that the market has moved on, that they are no longer aligned to the company’s strategy and targets. For this reason, this change should be a long term strategy, not just looking at the immediate future or the next financial year, but also stretching out to cover the following three to five years and any changes which are likely to occur over this period. In this way, companies are ready to start planning for the future, and tackling the most important changes first.

When reflecting upon the previous year, and thinking about your company’s strategy for the future, there are two aspects which need to be considered: qualitative and quantitative review.
The quantitative review could be carried out by surveys or questionnaires to try and gain staff perceptions, employer perceptions and partner perceptions of what’s working well, what people are concerned about, what they enjoy, what their anxieties are and so on. The qualitative review should be done in an informal, relaxed setting, such as through focus groups, or an informal lunch meeting in the staff canteen or the local coffee shop. This is a great way of ensuring you hear the views at every layer of the company, from the senior management to the junior executives.

Look to the future as well as the past

As part of the reflection upon your company, an important aspect is to look to large trends and business innovations which are likely to be worth investing in over the coming years and companies should start putting some of the coming year’s budget aside to invest in this technology.

In our opinion, Cloud Computing is one area which is going to see significant growth in coming years. Cloud computing affords efficiencies and refocuses people away from maintenance and onto development. This is a key example of ways in which companies can look at what facilities are available to help them do things in a better way and to ensure they are working as efficiently as possible. Much as someone quitting smoking will try using up to date technologies such as nicotine patches, or someone trying to lose weight will use a treadmill, it is important for companies to use the best possible facilities to drive their business fitness forwards. This is the time for organisations to start looking at cloud computing and start testing the water.

By looking at trends in your business sector it becomes clear where you need to target. For example, with retail figures continuing to slump, smart companies (particularly B2C companies) are investigating retail trends and realising that a large volume of sales are increasingly made online. Therefore, companies need to spend time, effort and resources developing their websites in the coming year. Considering the growing trend for online retail, it is shocking how many leading retail organisations still don’t have credible platforms for simple, easy to use online experiences. This has to be a priority for any fitness check. For a retail company to try to get your company fit without considering its website, is like trying to get fit without considering your heart. John Lewis is an example of a traditional retailer who transformed itself through its website and as a result it has reaped the benefits with a £600million sales boost over the Christmas period.

Make the change

Once you have had time to reflect upon the business as it currently stands, and to understand where you are currently operating efficiently and inefficiently, you can begin to identify the areas which are most in need of toning up, and where the excess fat can be trimmed.

Following from these reflections, it’s tempting to make a huge list of areas which need to get fit, and it is tempting to try to change too much too quickly. Over the New Year if you resolved to stop smoking, eat healthier and go to the gym everyday, the chances are you didn’t really stick to any of these. With a company the situation is exactly the same. An organisation can only focus on so many changes, and doing these differently and efficiently in the coming year. For this reason, from these reflections, a company should focus upon three or four changes in a year. Any more than that and you’ll be overloading yourself and stop focusing on the things that really matter.

Keep it up
As people repeatedly see with their New Year resolutions, it is all too easy for people to keep their good intentions for the first week or so, and then very quickly it all becomes a little too much effort. The chocolate becomes a little too tempting, and it’s a little too cold to drag yourself outside for a run. In the same way, in the corporate environment, it doesn’t take long before the day-to-day gets in the way, and good intentions remain just that – intentions. From our experience, one of the main reasons things don’t change in an organisation, is because senior managers, the people who should be taking the lead on change management processes, are busy working on operational work. When people are operating on the correct level, rather than reverting to their comfort zone they will create the space, time and resources not just to get their business fit in 2012, but to keep it fit.

About the authors

Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter is a Principal Consultant at Maxxim and a recognised and published expert in HR transformation and business improvement. Ian has worked in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and North America and his experience spans a number of sectors including financial services, FMCG, manufacturing, telecommunications, retail, oil and gas. He has taught at various European Business Schools for 15 years and is the author of eight published books and reports.

Matt Keen
Matt Keen is an Engagement Manager at Maxxim Consulting. Matt is an expert in strategic business partnering, organisation design and change management working across retail, media and financial services sectors. Matt has worked with clients including John Lewis Partnership, Warburtons and Lancaster University.