I was speaking with a close friend in Hong Kong after grinding my way back home through another rush hour ‘tin of sardines and signal failures’ London Underground journey. I was reminded of the fact that over in Hong Kong preparations for Chinese New Year were underway and that there was an air of expectation. This got me thinking, what can we learn from the Chinese New Year? Also known as the ‘Spring Festival’ it marks the end of winter, that long, dark cold passage of time ushering forth new hope and new prosperity. This bears remarkable resemblance to the economy right now. Politicians would give their right arm for a new leaf to turn over and for shoots of recovery to take root. For many organisations, the last 12 months has resembled a cost cutting exercise. A change in perspective may be what is required to encourage growth and manage risk. This therefore brings me back to the focus of this article – what the Chinese ethos can teach to build sustainable success.

There are three burning questions that spring to mind. What can we learn from Chinese New Year? How can we balance the yin and yang of investment whilst cost cutting to achieve the perfect equilibrium? And finally, what does the Year of the Water Dragon teach us?

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a special moment in the Chinese calendar; it is a time of hope and good fortune. At the time of writing this blog, we can all do with some optimism and luck. There are some parallels with business that we can draw from the key elements to a successful and happy new year. It is tradition that every family cleans the home to sweep out any ill-fortune and make way for incoming luck. Do away with the old and bring in the new. Deciding on how the new organisation will look and act is crucial to maintaining competitive advantage in the upturn. As Sun Tzu said in ‘The Art of War’, ‘The ultimate in disposing one’s troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wise lay plans against you.’’ I take from this saying that businesses should adopt a flexible organisation structure so the workforce can adapt and reduce risk.

Amongst traditions such as Reunion Dinner for all the family and Dragon/Lion troupe dances to ward off evil spirits one special tradition stands out. Children receive money through red envelopes – red is used as this colour was thought to scare away the mythical beast ‘the Nian’ which came on the first day of the New Year to eat livestock, crops and even villagers and children. This symbolic passing of wealth can be reflected through organisations re-focusing their reward and benefit offerings. A little effort can go a long way to keep a motivated and content workforce.

Yin/Yang Balance

Achieving success in life is about achieving the right balance; the right balance of decision making, the right balance of investment, or just the right balance of chi – energy flow to you and me. Too much of one puts the other out of line. Another quote from ‘The Art of War’ to me sums up how to achieve balance rather nicely, ‘Management of many is the same as management of few. It is a matter of organisation.’ Achieving organisational balance is treating the workforce on a personal level. My favourite example of this is when coaching the Head of Operations of one of the largest UK mailing centres he told me that he made it his mission to find out something personal about everyone who worked for him and use this information to build up a common vision of his workforce – the centre was incidentally (or not so incidentally) one of the top 5 best performing in the country.

Year of the Water Dragon

2012 is the year of the dragon. Each symbol, such as the Dragon, has specific characteristics and these are tempered or enflamed by the associated elements of water, earth, wind or fire – this year it is water. The Water Dragon is able to be patient, step back and re-evaluate a situation in order to make smart decisions. The current global depression has highlighted the need to review. Those organisations that are cutting back on their workforce to weather the downturn should take note of the Water Dragon’s approach. Take a considered view – less firefighting and more picking your moment to take action. Water Dragons are also known for dealing in a straightforward way, meeting people eye-to-eye and can be trusted.  Taking a transparent and consultative view will earn the trust of the workforce regardless of the decisions being made and will certainly lead to a stronger culture for the future.

So what have I learned? To save the organisational damsel in distress,1) Focus on bringing the team together, and hold on to your talent 2) Achieve the right balance and flexibility in your business by taking individual and business needs into account when making tough decisions 3) Be patient and transparent to make smart workforce decisions in your business.

As is traditional to greet the New Year I wish you 2 auspicious thoughts to take with you and apply to your organisation:

一本萬利Yīběnwànlì: “May a small investment bring ten-thousandfold profits


吉慶有餘Jíqìngyǒuyú – “May your happiness be without limit”