QUESTION: This year has been a mixed bag for my company, and we’re running 20 per cent below target. Do you have any recommendations on how I can get my team to press gas for this fourth quarter? A trend I’ve noticed year after year is that my staff is on go-slow nearing year end. It practically [looks] like everybody is preparing for Christmas from October. Now, the frustration for me personally as the boss is that I want to pay nice year-end bonuses but I can’t do it if we don’t make the money and when the productivity is so low.
– Business owner
BUSINESSWISE: In my experience, this is a very common predicament, and I can share several potential solutions to address the anaemic profits and the slowdown in productivity toward the end of the year. There is, however, one critical piece of information that I would require to ensure that these suggestions have the desired impact, that is, clarity on the root causes.
As a principle of business, remember that a description of the problem is not enough to make a prescription. We require an evidence-based approach to make substantial decisions.
I will share three possible scenarios that could be the root cause of the problem that you’re facing and the potential solutions in each case. Your homework will be to do a rigorous analysis to uncover the true source of your issues.
In this scenario, the demand for the product is lower at year-end than it is during the earlier months. This would mainly be an external problem that increased productivity from your team alone can’t solve. The intervention required is strategic leadership.
Ultimately, your leadership team would need to make a strategic decision on diversification, strategic partnerships, pricing policy, specials and promotions, combined with targeting new segments or an entirely different market.
A good example of these strategies can be seen in tourist industries. In the ‘off peak season’ , they offer special pricing, group discounts, do more local marketing, focus on weddings and events, and so on.
In this scenario, your company has a legacy of not paying bonuses, not providing tools, resources, engagement, or support to drive performance through troughs. Your employees are turned off and demotivated as a result. This is an internal problem, created by deficiencies in people leadership or what some would loosely refer to as a human resources challenge.
Instead of your team members putting all the effort into their jobs, they are probably eking out time hustling in order to ensure that they can ‘see’ Christmas. The holidays are miserable when you’re broke, especially in our culture where we believe it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
The solution requires leadership driving fundamental changes to managing teams, incentivising performance, and possibly changes to bonus calculations and offerings.
In this scenario, you do not invest enough in marketing and/or have ineffective approaches that don’t drive or support your sales push. This usually goes hand in hand with a lack of consistent mentorship/coaching in favour of front loading teambuilding activities at the start of the year.
This is an internal challenge, and the solution is strategic leadership. Marketing, like motivation, requires consistency.
It may be helpful to lean in on one of the most famous quotes from legendary sales guru Zig Zaglar: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.”
Too many companies make the mistake of doing flashy kick-off events to start the year but don’t follow up with proper performance evaluations and interventions vis-a-vis the targets. Remember, market conditions change, competition is a moving target, and the current inflationary pressures continue to have a significant impact on consumers.
The assumption that conditions remain constant is problematic. Plan for flexibility and change.
By now you would realise that the common factor in every scenario, regardless of the cause, is strategic leadership. It’s your time to shine, before shining the spotlight solely on your team. Once you settle on the right mix of strategies, measure their impact closely for their effect on sales, customer acquisition, and profitability, or any other measure you choose. Good luck for the last quarter of 2023 and beyond!
Yaneek Page is the programme lead for Market Entry USA, and a certified trainer in entrepreneurship.