January is named for Janus, the Roman god of doorways, gateways, beginnings, endings and transitions. He is usually pictured with two faces — one looking at what’s behind him and the other at what’s ahead. This year, I’ve learned more than ever about Janus and many other things Roman and Italian. Six months ago, my family and I decided to do something different. We decided to move to a small northern Italian village on the Swiss border to give our children the opportunity to go to an international school and live abroad.
Much like Janus, we’ve spent time looking back and looking forward — all the while trying to live in the present. During the process, we have all learned much about our new home, our old home and ourselves. We have grown as individuals and as a family. The opportunity has also provided plenty of food for thought to draw comparisons to the world of business.
For example, as companies emerge from the belt tightening caused by the recession, they are starting to spend money on infrastructure that they’ve put off. The conversation is switching from survival to growth. When it’s time to develop a growth agenda, it’s also time to have a conversation about what has to change. Doing the same thing over and over again is guaranteed to give the same results. If we want to get something different done, we have to change what we’re doing. As a family, we were ready for some different results, so we changed what we were doing. It hasn’t always been an easy road, but we are definitely growing!
Our move has forced us to take a different view of how we are doing things in our personal lives, relationships and education. By shaking it up a little, we’re seeing a different way to do things. I don’t want to call what we’re seeing as an absolute better way — it’s a different way. Now that we realize some of the different ways, we get to assess which ones work best for us. In business, as we consider the growth agenda, there are a lot of choices we could make. The question is which ones are the best for the business?
The kids are in school with children from all over — Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iceland, France, etc. They’re learning about the customs in other places. Everybody has a level of English, but they flip in and out of different languages. Our family isn’t fluent in a second language, and here, almost everyone else speaks two, if not three, if not four languages. We are the odd men out when it comes to languages, and we’re trying to change that!
Personally, I find the change exhilarating, challenging and fun. There’s a restful embrace of change and confidence in facing your fears. In our new lives, even accomplishing little things we previously took for granted requires a certain degree of fear facing. For example, something as simple as walking into a convenience store and not knowing if you have any language skills in common with who you’re about to face takes a different level of energy, stamina and resourcefulness than we were accustomed to or expecting. Everyone in our family has learned that we have a choice to make. We can be afraid of it and stay in the house — or choose to get out into the problem solving, open-minded space that is required to get things done. That new mindset is the one that brings the most into our lives and this experience. That same mindset is the one that brings more into our business and growth agendas.
In the world of business, I believe 2014 is a time to focus on three primary facets of the business world:
With economic stresses of the past five years, I‘m approaching 2014 with the goal to rebuild relationships. As a leader it isn’t always easy to manage expectations well, and now it’s time to rebuild some of the relationships that have been damaged. Those conversations are always difficult. Stress is a funny thing. There’s an element coming into 2014 about rebuilding some of the relationships that have been strained because of the weight of change and expectations. In my family life, we are closer than we were six months ago when we were living in our comfortable home in the States. As a family we’re having conversations we hadn’t had before. We left our friends. Our relationship tree has been shaken. Because of the changes in our lives and environment, we have had to rely on ourselves as a unit more than we did to six months ago. By choice or necessity, the move has opened up a world of opportunity that we didn’t see or even know was there before — and we’re able to better embrace the prospects together.
In 2014, the focus needs to shift from an internal focus to an external customer discussion. Even at our home, the conversations are shifting. Our kids are noticing Italian, French and Spanish finding their way into our dialogue. We’re all learning that customs are different — dinner customs, greeting customs, relationship customs. We’re learning things that we didn’t expect, including dealing with governments and local businesses. You just don’t know what you don’t know — much like when you’re trying to move into a growth agenda. You have to have perspective to balance whether it’s an important thing to address or whether it’s just noise — and our customers can usually help us with the answers.
Sometimes, the best choice is to do nothing. Let the work you’ve been working on play out. It’s about not over-reacting. Maybe I don’t need to immediately react if my growth plans aren’t coming in. Maybe I don’t need to immediately shift to a cost-savings plan. I’ve got to have some faith in the plan. Here with my family, we struggled with making the decision to go home to the States after one year or stay for a second year. It was a tough decision. At Christmas, I knew that if I told my kids, we were going home come summer and not coming back, I would have two happy kids and two kids who asked, “Why?” However, once we made the decision and let the kids know, everything was smoother. Clarifying for everyone that we’re not leaving seems to have removed a barrier for all of us. Don’t think there haven’t been hard conversations along the way, but letting them know we’re sticking with the plan has been good for everyone.
Whether the hardships are self-created or not, any team that struggles, gets closer. For our family, staying in the struggle has been a wonderful thing. In an effort to grow as individuals and as a family, we will continue looking forward and reflecting on what we’ve learned in the past. I hope that you, your family and your organization experience a similar growth in 2014!