The 10 Best Business Lessons Of 2016

Here’s a list of the best advice we’ve given for building and growing a successful organization.

The 10 Best Business Lessons Of 2016

Over the last year, there have been a lot of changes on the business landscape from Yahoo being sold to Verizon to Gawker going bankrupt. Along the way we’ve talked to CEOs of big companies, first-time entrepreneurs, and those working hard every day to make something new. Many have gone against the grain and looked at practices that may seem unintuitive but ultimately helped them find success.


To help you prepare for making change at your own company in 2017, we’ve complied some of the best business lessons we learned this year.

Lesson 1: Look Outside The Box When Sourcing Talent

Though unemployment has been on a steady decline over the last few years, tech jobs are still in high demand. More often than not they are hard to fill. Take the example of security: Cybersecurity jobs are very hot right now, and most companies are having trouble finding and cultivating the right talent. The answer to this problem may be to think bigger. Telecommunications services firm Level 3 has actually found success in sourcing security talent not from their hard labor skills but from their passions, namely from musicians.

Though many people do not know the technical skills that security professionals need, the company found that those adept at music were able to learn how to do the job and excel at it. By casting a wider net and seeking talent from out-of-the-box sources, a few companies have been able to fill gaps where others are still searching long and hard.


You can read about this strategy here: Musicians May Be The Key To The Cybersecurity Talent Shortage

Lesson 2: Encourage Your Employees To Think Big, Even To Quit, If It’s For The Best

“Retain your talent” may be an intuitive strategy for growing businesses, but it may not be the best advice. In fact, Mathilde Pribula, a partner at the HR executive search firm Frederickson Pribula Li, recommends the exact opposite. Her reasoning is simple: Why invest heavily in retaining talent whose aspirations don’t match with the company? Instead, she reasons, it’s best to work with your team to see what they want next. If it’s with your company, that’s great. But if it’s not, that’s okay too. She found that allowing her teams to talk about their professional paths–be it inside or outside the company–is the best answer. So perhaps it may behoove growing companies to provide each employee with a candid conversation about the future, so they can adeptly analyze the best steps forward.

Read on: Why My Company Started Helping Our Best Employees Quit


Lesson 3: Understand Metrics And Data, And Don’t Misuse Them

Statistics, to many people, equal objectivity. And often business decisions are bolstered by a datum that supposedly speaks quantitatively to the issue at hand. But designer and writer Ash Huang cautions people to avoid using statistics spuriously, and make sure that numbers cited help the business long term. Additionally, some statistics people use aren’t the most illustrative of the goals at hand. We can even look at this year’s presidential election to see how statistical analysis went awry. Instead, Huang argues, data should be used as a tool and not as an end.

Read her report on better understanding misused metrics here: Three Ways The Tech Industry (Still) Misuses Metrics

Lesson 4: Be Clear With Your Expectations

If you’re an enterprising business world entrant, chances are you will want a raise and promotion sometime in the future. Needless to say, it’s more than annoying to be gunning for a salary lift and then be met with a flat “no” from managers. That’s why it’s good for employers to be clear with what their criteria for promotion is and for employees to understand what value they add for a business.


Here’s a look into exactly what managers look for when considering these decisions so people can more adeptly navigate the world of raises and job shifts: I’m A CEO—Here’s How I Decide Whether To Give You A Raise Or Lay You Off

Lesson 5: Be Intentional With How You Build Work Culture

The type of business you make depends on how the world inside it operates. That’s one of the tricks entrepreneur and Google analytics cofounder Brett Crosby wrote about when he detailed the best ways to infuse good work culture. Many places try to go against the grain and do away with traditionally boring activities such as seminars and lengthy all-hands meetings. For Crosby, these sorts of totalizing edicts don’t work. What’s more, companies can even make programs like seminars good and useful for employees–even something that ends up bolstering the business’s culture.

Read his tips here: Four Lessons On Work Culture That I Learned At Google


Lesson 6: Raising A ton Of Money Doesn’t Mean You’re Going To Be Successful

Thanks to shows like Shark Tank, raising money and getting an obscene valuation is often considered the same as having a successful business. This year alone we’ve seen some highly valued companies (think: Theranos and Zenefits) fall from grace, despite the fact that they’ve raised millions of dollars. Craig Shapiro and Morgan Housel took this venture-capital myth to task and conclude that some of the best and most successful businesses are the ones with the least cash.

The truth of the matter is that businesses that are swimming in money probably feel less inclined to innovate quickly because there’s no imminent threat of demise. So while raising capital is what gets a lot of businesses off the ground, sometimes it can ultimately hinder their success. Instead, argue Shapiro and Housel, entrepreneurs should think twice about how they want to grow their business and really see if they absolutely need the infusion.

Read their reasoning here: The Case Against Startups Raising As Much Money As Humanly Possible


Lesson 7: Be Empathic And Compassionate

The goal of pretty much every businesses is to make money. All the same, there are other important elements to being successful. For instance, business leaders ought to be compassionate. For some, this may seem like some hippy-esque nonsense that won’t help a bottom line, but there’s actually a case for being an empathic leader. Emma Seppälä, the science director for Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, argues that compassion is actually a standout trait among people that often gives them an edge. It’s necessary to have the skills in place to both do good work and lead an organization, but it’s even better if a leader is able to aptly and empathetically communicate with those around them.

There are many reasons why leaders ought to consider embodying more of theses human skills–one, they breed trust among underlings; two they make for a more cohesive work culture–and, as three business leaders told Fast Company during this year’s Innovation Festival, these sorts of human skills are greatly in demand. In short: Successful leaders need to be able to relate to those around them.

Read her story here: The Surprising Link Between Compassion And Success


Lesson 8: Treat Your Company, Even Your Behemoth Corporation, Like A Startup

Sallie Krawcheck worked in the corporate world for years and then founded her own business. There, she learned a few key lessons about how to work with a small team and build an ideal product. Looking back, she realized these same lessons could even inform some big companies about how best they should operate their businesses. And, it’s true that other, bigger companies are beginning to mimic the startup ethos.

Perhaps they’re listening to Krawcheck, but if they’re not it’s time they read these helpful lessons she learned while building a startup from the ground up: What I Wish I Knew As A Corporate Exec That I Now Know As An Entrepreneur

Lesson 9: Pessimism Can Be Useful

Entrepreneurs want their companies to succeed, there’s no doubt about it. But some business mantras proclaim that the only path toward success is by only accepting it–that is, refusing to admit defeat. However good this may make someone feel, it’s not a good strategy. In fact, one of the best ways to realize how to navigate a business is to understanding the worst-case scenario and accept it as a possible outcome. Making a game plan to combat these worst-case scenarios is much better than refusing to admit they could happen. And many of the most successful entrepreneurs have visualized these less-than-ideal paths as a way to better steer toward a goal.


Read more about why pessimism is actually a good thing for business leaders: Why Entrepreneurs Should Practice Pessimism

Lesson 10: Give Employees A Way To Shine

Google famously had the policy that allowed employees to use 20% of their time toward personal projects. It was the company’s way of allowing its employees to be agile–yes, they had to do their day-to-day work, but they also had a way to seek out other projects that may help the company (and the tech industry) innovate. While Google–now Alphabet–may have done away with this formal policy as the company grew to gargantuan size, the idea remains.

IBM, for example, has an entire internal radio station that allows employees to be creative and connect with others around the world. None of the people running the station are paid to do so; it’s a wholly extracurricular activity that has turned into a well-known internal hub. This program is a way for the 200,000-plus employee base of the computing giant to cross over networks and learn from each other. And, most importantly, it’s a way for them to be creative.


You can learn more about IBM’s intranet radio station here: IBM’s Unlikely Silo Buster: An Intranet Radio Station


About the author

Cale is a Brooklyn-based reporter. He writes about many things.


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