Monday Mornings with Madison

Monthly Archives:
January 2015

The Challenges Ahead for U.S. Businesses in 2015

According to President Obama’s State of the Union Address this week, “After a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.” Indeed, just a few weeks into 2015, the nation’s economy does seem to be in the best shape it’s been since before the Great Recession (which is indeed good news, but certainly does not set the bar very high). U.S. employment increased by nearly three million jobs in 2014. Unemployment decreased a full percentage point between 2013 and 2014, dropping to the current 5.6% — the lowest rate since 2008 and the largest year-over-year decline since 1984. If things continue on this track, the U.S. is predicted to reach 5% unemployment by the end of the year, which is nearing that economic nirvana of “full employment”. Also, declining oil prices have helped bolster consumer purchasing power. The U.S. dollar is also at its highest value in many years. These are all good indicators.

Despite all the positive economic indicators, most U.S. businesses will still face certain challenges in the year ahead. Even as the U.S. enjoys a healthier economy than most any other industrialized nation in the world today, companies will have to contend with issues, many of which were carried over from 2014. Companies that ignore these problems do so at their own peril. However, recognizing what issues lie ahead is the first step to either tackling them head-on or sidestepping them altogether. Continue reading

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To Change a Behavior, Change the Environment

At the beginning of a year, many people make resolutions to change. They want to break a bad habit or start a good habit. Or they want to improve or reduce how or how much they do something. For some, the change is personal. Lose weight. Eat healthy. Exercise. Stop smoking. For others, the change is professional. Stay organized. Find greater work/life balance. Be on time to work. Have more patience. Be more pleasant to customers. For each person, it is a different resolution. Yet, everyone basically wants to do the same thing: change a difficult-to-change behavior. (After all, if it was easy to change the behavior, there’d be no need for a resolution!)

Indeed, changing a behavior is not easy. Even when a person really, really wants to change their own personal conduct, behaviors persist. Eating the wrong foods. Drinking too much. Smoking. Being tardy. Why is that? In part, it is because humans are creatures of habit. Habits — which live in a specific part of the brain (interestingly independent from the part of the brain that houses memory) — control of much of the automatic behavior we perform each day… often mindlessly. Many behaviors are done on auto-pilot with very little thought. If so much behavior is done on auto-pilot, how does a person break a bad habit or start a new behavior? For decades psychologists suggested that to change a behavior, one simply had to first change one’s attitude. But, it turns out that that is not really true. To change a behavior within, start by changing the environment outside. How so? And is there a way a manager or employee can use this to improve productivity, short-circuit undesirable work behaviors and increase profits? Continue reading

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Handling Competitors

There is no business that exists anywhere in the free-market world that is without competition… at least not for long. The moment a product or service is invented and sold, someone somewhere opens a business that rivals it somehow. The competitor’s delivery method might differ. Or its service and support might be better. Or the competitor’s product might be slightly improved. Competition is inevitable.

Since part of being in business includes having competition, businesses must decide how to contend with competitors. Is there a right way to handle business rivals? Some entrepreneurs approach competitors like arch enemies. Others see competition as a good thing, driving companies to continually improve. Still others see competition as a non-issue. And there are some who – at their own peril — dare to ignore competition altogether. Which approach for dealing with business rivals is correct? Is there a right way to view competition and handle competitors? Continue reading

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Four Tips for Making a Fresh Start

An unequivocal part of being human is making mistakes. We try things and fail. When standing at a fork in the road, we sometimes take the wrong path. We act when we should wait, and wait when we should act. However, failing is not synonymous with failure. Mistakes and wrong turns are the reasons that there are erasers on pencils and a ‘reverse’ gear on every car’s transmission. Miscalculations, blunders and slips are an undeniable and unavoidable part of the human condition. No matter how big the error or how ‘off track’ one might go, there is always an opportunity to pause, reassess, and start again.

There is nothing that says that fresh starts are reserved for the beginning of a calendar year. However, it does seem to be the time of year when many are inclined to consider changing course. Resolutions abound. Some folks start diets and begin exercise programs. Some companies change policies. The idea is to stop doing things the “wrong” way and do things a “better” way. Just as errors are part of being human, so is the desire to start anew. Here are four tips on how to wipe the slate clean. Continue reading

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