Invest in yourself: Business experts offer resolutions to improve work and life

FARGO — New Year’s Day is fading in the rear view mirror, but it’s never too late to make resolutions that can save time, cut stress and improve your effectiveness as a business professional.

Yes, there’s the possibility that like some other resolutions — eat less, exercise more — we’ll fall short. But setting goals is how we get things done. Drifting along in a competitive world rarely leads to success.

And who doesn’t like the satisfaction of checking something off their to-do list?

Management experts Onnolee Nordstrom of North Dakota State University and Jane Pettinger of Minnesota State University Moorhead offered more than a dozen tips for go-getters to get better results in business and life in general.

To Nordstrom, an assistant professor specializing in strategy and entrepreneurship, a lot of good comes out of communicating and connecting.

Dump the “ding”

Park the phone: “The reason that I thought about that is that there has been a lot of work done about the ineffectiveness of multitasking. What you aren’t doing is multitasking. You’re just switching tasks. Put your phone down. Focus on your tasks at hand,” Nordstrom said.

“The two most productive, successful people that I know … have no social media presence,” Nordstrom said. “Quit checking your phone. Don’t be ruled by the ‘ding.’”

Read every day: “I think that it’s important that we read different books. Not just in the core area or what is relevant to our core area,” Nordstrom said.

“Bill Gates reads one book every week. It’s a simple thing we can all do that will help us be more effective and successful,” she said. “Learn more. Be more well-rounded.”

Extend a hand: “Be a mentor to someone. If you’re an established business person, you could plan to attend 1 Million Cups and help a start-up,” she said.

“Mentors can get a lot back from being mentors, too,” Nordstrom said, learning as they help others learn.

Embrace gratitude: “When we get so busy in our organizations, what can get lost is our organization’s culture. Think about the small things you can do to improve your employee culture,” Nordstrom said.

She talked about a business person who hand writes a birthday card to every one of their employees.

“They’ve done this since they were small and now they have 5,000 employees,” Nordstrom said. Small gestures “can have a big impact on a business culture and employee morale.”

The kids are all right

Talk to young people: “People talk about how lazy the younger generation are, or entitled, or unwilling to work. I work with a lot of young people — I think just the opposite. They have a lot of insights and talents,” Nordstrom said. “If you talk with the youth, you might really be changed — and learn something, too.”

Pettinger, an assistant professor of management and the experiential learning coordinator at MSUM’s Paseka School of Business, agrees wholeheartedly.

Engagement for all: “If your employees are, in fact, engaged in your workplace, you’re doing the things that millennials want,” Pettinger said.

By 2025, three-quarters of workers will be millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), and Generation Z or post-millennials, she said.

Millennials want flexibility and “work/life balance, they want fair play about their performance. Well, heck, don’t we all?” Pettinger said.

“A really good idea would be to facilitate (workplace) conversations about being in a particular generation between generations,” Pettinger said. “Talk to your employees, listen to them.”

Invest in the right tech: “Be sure that the right information is available to the right people at the right time,” Pettinger said.

Adapt the right hardware and software, so people can take action “and capitalize on opportunities right away,” Pettinger said.

What's next?: “There’s lots of short-term thinking in our lives. Long-term success requires longer-term thinking,” Pettinger said.

Long-term thinking used to project out to 20 or 25 years.

“I don’t think anyone uses those type of goals anymore,” Pettinger said. But it can’t hurt to review your business plans and goals for five to 10 years ahead.

Itch to innovate: I think that the constant search for innovation is really, really key” in keeping America on top of the world, Pettinger said.

Entrepreneurs should ask themselves, “Have I maintained that quest for innovation?” she said. “Am I doing this in a way that sets my organization apart from everyone else?”

Rest and revise

Take care of yourself: “We kind of toil and toil and toil, and we are in danger of burning ourselves out. So, self-care is important,” Pettinger said.

The younger generations “get the self-care piece better. They are checking out and going mountain hiking for a year, because, why not?”

There are different needs generationally. For example, there’s nothing wrong with going back to school later in life, she said.

“If there is a dream you want to chase, take some steps to achieve that dream,” Pettinger aid. “It doesn’t mean you have to quit your job. But take some steps toward it.”

Fitness also plays a part, she said.

“If you aren’t comfortable with who you are physically, what steps can you take (to get you to where) you can be happy with who you are?”

Delegate: “We could all delegate more. … How will employees learn to lead without the opportunity to learn to lead?” Pettinger asks.

Start by delegating your favorite tasks, because you’re already good at them, she said. That gives you time to spend on more valuable tasks.

It also doesn’t hurt to admit other people can do things better than you.

“When you delegate effectively, not only do the things you keep to yourself” get done better, “but the things you delegate are done better, because you are not squashed” for time,” Pettinger said. “We all win.”

Set smart goals: Goals broken down into smaller steps are less daunting. Even doing background work is “a huge step forward, instead of just thinking about it, or imaging it,” Pettinger said.

“Any resolution you set should have a reason to it,” she said. “Set a larger goal so the smaller goals mean something.”

Every job has meaning: It is important that every employee in a company knows that what they do makes a difference, Pettinger said.

A janitor may be just mopping a floor in a surgical room at a hospital, but if he or she realizes that keeping the room exceptionally clean will save lives, he or she will be more engaged in the work.

“Make sure every single employee knows their role in achieving your mission,” Pettinger said.