As we head forward into 2018, I’m hearing various questions and concerns about the uncertain future.

  • We might see a big housing bubble.
  • International relationships are jumping all over.
  • Customers and markets are acting in unpredictable ways.

The truth is that there are always concerns, questions, and issues. When we look back in time, we see the patterns. But while it’s happening?

Not so easy.

There are some fundamental principles, though, which help guide decisions.

First: Hold true to your mission. If you’re constantly changing direction, it confuses your employees, partners, and customers. So you should be very slow to change the basic character of your company.

Second: Filter out what doesn’t matter. I find a lot of people have general concerns about lots of things: the larger economy, the political landscape, whatever. As a leader, your role is to help people determine what to spend attention on. You don’t want them worrying about their job every time they hear about something on the other side of the country – because that’s happening constantly.

Third: Balance your short term and long term. Yes, you do need to be thinking about this week’s sales. But you can’t be changing your long term direction and priorities every week, or you’ll never make any progress at all. You’ll just be at the whim of the random fluctuations and 10 minute news cycle.

It’s true that you have to decide what the right balance is. You do want to respond when something powerful happens which affects you directly. But you’re trying to avoid the knee-jerk responses that you’ll regret later, and replace them with something more thoughtful.

How much thought? It depends. Sorry, that’s the reality. Your intuition and experience can be the best guide.

Fourth: Even out the hills and valleys. You do this intentionally, using your long term goals and priorities to even out the emotional roller coaster. A leader will see that larger picture, identifying where and when quick response is warranted. Most of the time, it’s just the emotional journey that distracts you from what’s important.

Fifth: Measure the important stuff. The value of measuring is that it focuses you on a consistent set of priorities. And, because there’s some overhead involved, you’re not going to be changing it every day.

The challenge, of course, is measuring the important versus easy-to-count. It’s harder to count the revenue per customer than the sum total of revenue, but usually that detail gives you important insights.

Employee productivity is often difficult to determine. But if you’re having problems getting your folks to produce, you’re going to have to figure out which measures help you to make high quality decisions.

Sixth: Create the right culture. Every organization, every group has a culture. The question is whether that culture serves its goals, or gets in the way. I’m shocked at how often the key limiters of a company’s success lie in its own culture.

  • Not lack of customers, but whether employees actually care about customers.
  • Not out-of-control expenses, but whether employees feel encouraged to use money wisely.
  • Not products that miss the mark, but whether employees know how to design what customers will buy.

There are a lot of things happening out there in the world, and a whole lot of unpredictable forces. Your role as the leader is to help put a structure in place which evens things out and lets you focus on what’s important.

Because, honestly, 99 percent of it is just noise.

This article was first published in BizWest.