Article Date: 1/1/2008

How to Defeat the New Year's Productivity Blues
o.d. to o.d.

How to Defeat the New Year's Productivity Blues

Your practice just completed a very good year. So why do you and your staff feel so frustrated on January 1?

BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O. Chief Optometric Editor

Last month, businesses across the country closed their books on 2007. Those businesses that had'nt constantly monitored their profitability during the year were left to compare the productivity of 2007 to that of 2006, or even 2005. Naturally, they hoped 2007 exceeded previous years.

The owners and employees of businesses that were less profitable in 2007 will perhaps start this year feeling defeated, dissatisfied and frustrated. It would be difficult for any business to recognize the efforts put forth throughout an entire year were not good enough to match or exceed the profitability of previous years.

We tend to think that owners and employees feel good when they end the year with greater profits than previous years. In fact, many business stakeholders — whose financial compensation and personal satisfaction depend on performance — do complete the year feeling satisfied and fulfilled, only to begin the New Year feeling frustrated, depressed and less successful than they really are.

The reason for the negative feelings is a result of how businesses measure productivity. Typically, businesses compare productivity from one calendar year to the next. As a result, no matter how good your production year was on December 31st, on January 1st you start all over again, from zero. Going into the office for the first day of a new year can often feel frustrating because you and your employees face yet another uphill struggle.

Facing the challenge

Several years ago, as I completed what was at that time the best production year my staff and I had ever experienced, I found myself feeling the same frustrations. My frustration came from two primary areas:

Each year, we face another uphill struggle.

1. How could I work harder and more productively to exceed our best production year?

2. How could I lead and inspire my employees to do the same?

In discussing this with a friend, I was reminded of Sisyphus from Greek mythology. To punish him for his evil doings, the gods condemned Sisyphus to a lifetime of hard labor. Specifically, he was to roll a large boulder up the side of a hill, where-upon reaching the summit, the boulder would roll back down to the valley where Sisyphus would once again — and for ever more — roll the boulder back up the hill. So it went for Sisyphus, and if you believe in Greek mythology, it continues today and forever more.

So, how do we not feel as though we're starting all over again? How do we complete the production year and not worry about whether we can motivate ourselves and our employees to increase production and profitability in the new year?

A cause and a solution

I think the reason most small-business owners compare production from one calendar year to the next is that most small businesses have a fiscal year end of December 31st. While this might be the legal year-end for many businesses, for tax purposes, it doesn't mean that we have to evaluate our productivity or set our goals for the new year based on previous years.

My suggestion: Use a rolling 12-month productivity cycle to set productivity goals that will motivate you and your employees. This approach gives you more frequent opportunities to assess your performance and accomplishments, while eliminating the feeling of such large peaks and valleys.

Imagine if Sisyphus could have rolled his boulder along a road with only gentle slopes, both up and down. Surely his sense of accomplishment would have been greater. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2008