'Tis the season for Secret Santa, office parties and giant goodie baskets from clients. The atmosphere is festive, full of yuletide and joy and peace for mankind. While you’re busy decking the halls, it’s also time to take inventory of the year that was in our respective businesses. What did we do this year that will catapult us into 2016? What can we do better? Have we met our conditions of satisfaction?
Whatever your questions are, and while you’re watching your favorite Christmas movies, here are some lessons businesses can learn from some of the most popular ones.
1. It’s A Wonderful Life
Lesson: Be radically transparent. This 1946 classic features Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a resident of Bedford Falls who discovers what the world would be like if he had never lived. When the Bailey Savings and Loan investors panic and try to withdraw their money from the family business, George attempts to calm the nervous crowd with an ad-hoc breakdown of the firm’s investment portfolio and how it’s benefiting the community. After George is shown what the world would be like without him (remember Potterville?), George delivers a forthright report to his investors that saves his business.
In today’s business world, clear communication and radical transparency are a must, especially with your employees, clients or investors. Your employees are your best assets, and if you’re not transparent with them, it could have a disastrous effect on your business. Never underestimate the value of honest and open communication and radical transparency, which includes calling out BS when you see it. People know me as being brutally honest-- and usually, when I say something sucks, it truly sucks. They may not like what I have to say, but I’ve never been accused of being a liar.
2. Miracle on 34th Street
Lesson: Authenticity builds customer loyalty and trust. Who doesn’t love seeing adorable Natalie Wood in this 1947 Christmas staple? Miracle on 34th Street chronicles how Kris Kringle, played by Edmund Gwenn, gets hired to play Santa at the iconic Macy’s flagship store. He promptly breaks the rules by telling some customers where they’d have better luck finding the toys their kids want -- even if it’s a competitor. Initially, Macy’s was outraged and about to fire Kringle, but a customer appreciates Macy’s honesty and vows to do her Christmas shopping exclusively at the store. Genuine customer service creates great buzz while helping build brand loyalty and even helps increase Macy’s customer base.
In business and in life, you must be authentic in everything you do. In fact, you must even have a servant’s mentality -- indicating how some people are passionate about serving others, while others aren’t inclined to do so. No matter which line of business you’re in, your customers should be your priority at all times, not just when it’s convenient for you. If your customers believe in you, that will help you solidify brand loyalty, because they know they can trust you. Trust is the most fragile relationship you can have with your customers. Once you have it, be sure to do everything in your power to keep it, because once it’s gone, it’s next to impossible to fully gain it back.
3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Lesson: Your employees are your best assets. Most of us have seen this movie, over and over again, but I never get tired of it. When the eclectic Griswold family gets together for Christmas, it’s mayhem. A series of mishaps from Clark Griswold, bumbling cousin Eddie, cantankerous Uncle Lewis, and absent-minded Aunt Bethany, preface a most unforgettable family Christmas. Clark gets stuck in the attic, the turkey is burnt to a crisp, the animals destroy the Christmas tree and Uncle Lewis’ toupee catches fire -- but finally the Griswold home is all lit up, and the spirit of Christmas lives on. Mission accomplished!
Your employees are like the Griswolds -- each their own quirky character with a certain level of skills that will help move your business forward. Not to mention, you probably spend more time with them than you do with your own family. The objective is to get your merry band to pull in the same direction, develop a distinct cadence and move the needle forward. Not everyone will get along, but you have to make it work as seamlessly as possible. Learn to accept each employee’s individuality, because these same employees are the team that will help you achieve your goals.
Oh, and don’t kidnap the boss -- it usually doesn’t end well!
4. Home Alone
Lesson: Protect the brand at all costs. Kevin McCallister is left home alone by his entire family as they go on a Christmas vacation. At first, Kevin is in heaven, but when danger lurks, Kevin decides to protect his home from con men Marv and Harry, the two bandits looking to come away with a big loot on Christmas. Kevin gets to work and sets a number of clever traps to divert the would-be robbers from stealing the McCallisters’ prized possessions. Thanks to Kevin’s machinations, chaos is averted, the robbers are taken to prison, and he’s reunited with his apologetic family.
While Kevin was protecting his home, you must protect your brand identity. No one will know your brand better than you. You are your biggest brand advocate, cheerleader and fan. No one can sell it, promote it, and praise it as well as you can. Everything you and your team do for that business is a reflection of you, and in turn, you’re a reflection of your business! So if people associate words like ethical, responsible and trustworthy with you, make sure your brand gets the same.
Lesson: Own your story. Buddy the Elf was raised by Papa Elf in the North Pole, and he can’t contain his excitement about spreading Christmas cheer to all on Earth. He has lived his entire life amongst elves and the big man himself, Santa Claus. It doesn’t take long for Buddy to realize he doesn’t really fit with the rest of the elves. He’s much bigger than everyone else, his toy-making skills aren’t up to par, and he’s just all around different. Buddy takes off to New York City to search for his real family. Throughout the movie, Buddy shows his naiveté about all things human except his love for Christmas and his wonderment.
Buddy, despite all his differences, owns who he is -- elf costume and all. He doesn’t care about the stares or the whispers. All he knows is that he loves Christmas and will spread that cheer to anyone who will listen. Owning who you are as a person -- and a businessperson -- is part of what makes you, you. When someone tells you, "you must do this or that to be successful," tell them to shut up -- politely, of course. You are writing your own story, and you can’t write your story based on someone else’s experiences. Your business needs to reflect that too -- an identity of its own. Stop listening to “them,” if you want what’s best for you.
Related: 5 Steps to Build Your Personal Brand