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Ken Keller: Three Christmas wishes for businesses

Brain Food for Business People

Posted: December 25, 2010 10:04 p.m.
Updated: December 26, 2010 4:55 a.m.

My normal column provides tools, easy to understand suggestions and advice to those in business, but there are occasions when it is important to stop and take a broader, more personal look at the world of work.

As this is near the end of the year, it is appropriate and right to do so.

2010 started out economically challenged and appears to be getting back on track. Two things concern me about this recovery. The first is that companies are still reducing payrolls. The second is that so many people are jobless.

It’s one thing to be happily unemployed; it is another to be frustrated on the sidelines and unable to make a contribution to an organization that could use the help.

Many of those working have experienced reduced pay, reduced hours and reduced benefits. It seems the only thing that hasn’t been reduced is stress levels for both employed and unemployed.

I counsel business owners. Owners see things in black and red, otherwise known as profit and loss. These people work incredibly long hours, far longer than if they were working for someone else. 

Owners are not ruthless, cold-hearted people who secretly delight at reducing jobs, not giving raises and asking employees to contribute more for health care benefits or retirement programs.

In these times, owners are best described as captains of ships sailing in rough waters, doing their best to keep the ship afloat, and the crew and passengers safe. As the captain, tough decisions have to be made, usually with limited information.

It is very lonely at the top and despite the bravado, many owners don’t sleep all that well. In addition to the long hours, the challenges of leading a business enterprise never seem to go away. It’s similar to having a nagging headache all day long, regardless of the fact that you’ve been taking painkillers since you woke up.

When it comes to people on the payroll, many owners look through a prism of doing their best to reduce nonessential costs. From that perspective, one often glaring nonessential cost is a person who is not helping to grow the revenue base or helping to maintain good client relations.

It is true and sad that many good, hardworking people have been terminated, laid off and furloughed from jobs they loved.

This happens in a free-market economy when things take place beyond the control of anyone. For those unemployed reading this, I have been there with you, more than once, and my empathy and sympathy are with you.

For those that are working, and working harder than at any other time in their life for less reward than before, I understand. I have been through the same difficult times. My way out was to work harder, longer and be more focused than those around me, in order to be noticed. I also invested to gain the knowledge and skills to make more of a contribution to my employers. 

In the short-term, their only solution is to put in more effort. But the sacrifice pays off in the long term for those willing to do what is required.  

I am grateful that I enjoy the work I have chosen. I wake up in the morning happy I have selected a profession that allows me to serve others. From that I receive a great deal of joy and fulfillment.

If I could make a single wish and it could be fulfilled, it would be that everyone on the planet find a job, but more important, a job where they are fulfilled and engaging their interests and their passions.

Just consider how much more productive organizations would be, how much better customers could be served and how conflicts at places of employment would decreased if individual passions were engaged and focused on achieving worthwhile results.

This joy would transfer to families and alleviate the tension that exists at home, because people are not happy with what they do for a living.

The second wish is that owners would be more forthcoming with their employees about the health of their businesses. It is one thing to tell people they won’t be getting raises. It is another thing — something not done often enough — to take the time to educate people to be focused on the key drivers of revenue growth, expense reduction and cash flow improvements so that the company could afford to give raises even when the economy isn’t as good as it once was.  

If more owners would step up and take this bold action, two things will take place. The first is that people will become very focused in earning the financial prize. The second is that everyone would be united in their efforts. It’s hard to argue against focus, teamwork and results.

The third wish is that every business and consumer would adapt the understanding of service as the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain. In only nine words, it is simple, effective and yet astounding: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

What is stopping any organization from striving to achieve this standard? What is stopping any of us to act with intention and grace as we interact with our fellow human beings? Nothing except the knowledge and will to do so.

I am thankful I have the ability to reach so many people each week and provide them with knowledge and tools to improve their businesses and their lives. I have been deeply touched by many members of this fine community who have responded to my articles. This has encouraged me to continue my writing each week.

These are difficult times, but with difficulties come opportunities. I hope 2011 is the best year ever for your life, your family and your business.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, helping top executives make better decisions through informed peer perspective, resulting in better top and bottom-line results. He can be reached at (661) 295-6892 or His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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