The 10 Best Business Lessons Of 2015

The annual review may be on its way out, and getting fired might not be so terrible. These are the best things we learned in 2015.

There was no shortage of debate this past year over the ways we work today, and how we should work in the future.


By some accounts, the annual review is on its deathbed, the vestige of an earlier era of performance management. And when it comes to the expanded family leave and vacation policies some companies have rolled out, employees are now faced with determining how and whether to use them.

That adds up to a lot of decisions that companies and professionals alike need to make. Fortunately, there are always the examples of others to turn to. Here’s a look at 10 of the business lessons that defined some of the past year’s conversations about the state of the workplace and where it’s headed.

Lesson No. 1: Starting A Business Is Hard, Even When You Have Lots Of Experience

Sallie Krawcheck spent a career at the top of some of the world’s leading financial institutions before starting Ellevest, an investing platform for women, earlier this year. She’d be the first to tell you that even her level of experience wasn’t enough to make it a cakewalk. “The truth is that being an entrepreneur is harder than running Merrill Lynch—and I should know,” she says, “having run Merrill Lynch. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Read Krawcheck’s take on what aspiring entrepreneurs need to think hard about before taking the leap that she did: 9 Reasons To Think Twice Before Starting Your Own Company


Lesson No. 2: The Annual Performance Review Isn’t A Good Way To Manage People Or Boost Performance

This year, a growing list of organizations including GE, Deloitte, and Accenture nixed the long-held tradition of the annual performance review. Why? Because “the focus isn’t on grading how well people are doing, but on constant improvement through consistent communication,” explains David Brennan, general manager of Achievers, a firm that helps businesses reward and recognize their staff. Read more on how to motivate your employees and track their achievements here: How To Ditch The Annual Performance Review For Good

Lesson No. 3: Calling Yourself A Freelancer Might Not Be Such A Good Idea

Having dropped the label after a string of bad experiences, Suzan Bond cautions other independent workers that “saying you’re a freelancer doesn’t signal to others that you’re a know-what-you’re-doing, take-no-crap professional.” Instead, and however unfairly, “clients too often see freelance arrangements as low-cost line items rather than strategic partnerships. As the freelancer economy continues to grow, this advice could add up to much more than semantics. Read more: Why I Stopped Calling Myself A “Freelancer”

Lesson No. 4: Sometimes Stepping Back From The CEO Job Is The Best Leadership Move

When Sophia Amoruso stepped down from her CEO role at Nasty Gal in January, some saw her decision as a concession of defeat. But being realistic about her skills and weaknesses might have been a strong leadership decision. As Lex Schroeder, an organizer at Take the Lead Women, explained: “Stepping back or changing roles isn’t always easy, but it creates new space for someone else to step up for the good of the organization. This, too, is leadership. It just takes more humility than we’re used to seeing in the business space and in our culture.” Read more here: When Giving Up The Lead Is The Best Leadership Decision


Lesson No. 5: Periods Of Crisis Can Sometimes Help Your Company Out Of A Tough Spot

No one’s happy when it all hits the fan. But businesses can learn a thing or two by the way they confront those life-and-death situations. Sometimes that’s even how the most creative solutions are born. As one startup CEO recounts, “There’s a paradoxical upside to real crisis: At the same time that it offers the ultimate excuse to call it quits, it also renders excuses pointless.” Read more: How I Used A Crisis To Turn Around My Business

Lesson No. 6: World Travel Can Make You A Better Boss

Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of the travel company G Adventures, has traveled to more countries than he can remember. Seeing and experiencing the world has taught him several valuable leadership lessons, including how to step out of his comfort zone, and the creative possibilities that come from diversity. Read more here: How Travel Can Make You a Better Leader

Lesson No. 7: Getting Fired Can Be Great Leadership Training

Getting fired isn’t part of the usual playbook for developing leadership skills. But it taught Bill Watkins, CEO of Imergy Power Systems, something fundamental. “Battles happen all the time, and if you’re never pushed, you never know your limits.” Sometimes those battles lead to being dismissed–as Watkins was, twice. That can help teach leaders when to stick to their convictions, and when to reconsider their reasons for holding them in the first place. Or as Watkins puts it, “There is a fine line between bullshit and righteousness.” Read more: Why Getting Fired Can Be Critical To Success As A Leader


Lesson No. 8: Working With People Who You Disagree With Is Hard, But You’ll Get More Done

We may unconsciously favor people who remind us of ourselves, but as we’ve learned over and over, diversity of ideas helps foster innovation. So while working with people you disagree with can be challenging, it can help shake you out of your comfort zone. Read more: Why You’ll Accomplish More Working With Your Opponents

Lesson No. 9: Alone Time Can Spark Creative Thinking And Strengthen Your Relationships With Others

“Hell is other people,” said Jean-Paul Sartre, and just about every surly 11th grader afterward. As it turns out, they’ve now got some backing from science. As one expert explains, “Solitude is a crucial and underrated ingredient for creativity.” So it’s a pity that modern society tends to discourage it. In fact, researchers are learning that naturally inclined introverts learn as children to ape the habits of extroverts. And while regaining the cognitive benefits that alone time can deliver is no small challenge, it can be worth the effort. Read more here to learn how: How Solitude Can Change Your Brain In Profound Ways

Lesson No. 10: Work-Life Policies Mean Nothing If Leaders Don’t Follow Them

We saw it with parental leave and unlimited vacation polices: No matter how generous your company’s policy, if you never stop working, everyone will feel like they have to do the same, and that’s a recipe for burnout. Actions speak louder than words after all. Read more techniques to implement work-life polices that work here: Why Executives Should Stop Quitting To Find Work-Life Balance