The beginning of the year is a natural time of transition. Now that the frenzy of the holiday season has passed, it’s a time of re-focusing and getting back down to business. Whether or not you’ve made (or already broken) New Year’s resolutions, this is a good time to re-assess your goals for your business or career and perhaps set new ones. Did you meet your goals for last year? Did your business grow? If not, why? What do you want to accomplish this year? How about in the first 90 days of 2013?

If you’re part of a small company -- like more than 80 percent of businesses in the North Bay -- and you don’t have a formal performance review process in place, setting goals is an essential step for translating your business plan into a road map. Good leaders must be able to communicate where they want to go and inspire others to join them in making it happen. But goal setting accomplishes more than direction. It opens the lines of communication about expectations, yours and others’. Unexpressed expectations inevitably cause problems within organizations of all sizes. The funny thing about expectations is that often we don’t realize we have them until they’re not being met. Or, as someone once put it to me, the definition of expectations is “pre-meditated resentments.”

People working in smaller companies and organizations tend to wear a lot of hats because there are simply fewer bodies to do everything that needs to get done. It can be very easy to get lost in the minutiae of pressing tasks. How do you know whether your work is meeting your boss’s expectations and contributing to the company’s success? Creating and communicating shorter term, 90-day or 180-day goals helps continually define everyone’s responsibilities clearly and keep everyone’s expectations aligned.

If you are the owner or boss, goal setting leads quite naturally to re-assessing the team you have in place, as it should. I advise my clients to reassess their teams annually. Actually, I recommend doing a workforce audit at least once, which is a much more comprehensive undertaking, and developing a workforce plan. Once you have that plan in place, you can reassess your team annually and make adjustments for business shifts and new goals. The purpose of all is this is to ensure that you continue to have the right team in place to achieve your business goals. This requires taking stock periodically to identify potential gaps or redundancies, similar to taking inventory annually.

Talking about this objectively makes it all sound so simple and straightforward but of course this isn’t merely “inventory.” We’re talking about people’s careers and livelihoods -- people you know and work alongside every day. In reality, it’s pretty difficult to be objective. For this reason, it may be more effective to bring in a third-party service, someone external who specializes in organizational development and workforce planning to help you remove your blinders and identify the changes needed. This is true for companies of all sizes, even companies large enough to have human resources staff, and simply more of a practical necessity for smaller companies. Either way, you have to be willing to make the investment in your business.

You also have to be willing to accept discomfort. Making changes is one of the hardest things to do. Most of us have an aversion to change because it’s not safe and comfortable, as we tend to prefer. Change is painful. Change also involves a fair amount fear.

If you are a small business owner juggling many balls, one of the changes you may need to consider involves your own expectations and workload. Perhaps the best thing you can do for the success of your business may be to delegate more of your work by adding a new position or engaging a third-party service. As a small business owner myself, last year I worked with a business coach who helped me identify how to make better use of my time and where to make needed changes to achieve my goals and grow my business. That’s why I can say with authority how uncomfortable this process can be. One of the outcomes of this scrutiny was the decision to hire a virtual assistant, bookkeeping service and social media consultant which freed up more of my time to seek new business. I thought I was being practical and cost effective but the business consultant helped me realize that managing administrative tasks was not the best use of my time as company president and not at all aligned with achieving my business goals. In fact, now I see that I need to delegate even more.

In which areas might you be wearing blinders? What are you avoiding to remain comfortable or failing to see out of complacency or fear of change? I encourage you to do these three things as a business owner or manager during the first quarter of 2013 to identify where you may be drifting off course so that you can make adjustments for continued growth and success:Review your business plan.Set new or renewed goals for this year.Take stock of your team/workforce. Get outside help -- it’s well worth it.

Speaking of blinders, how do you know when the time has come as a professional to move on in your career? I invite you to contact. Send me your thoughts. I’ll cover this in a future column....Jennifer Laxton is the president of ESA Consulting, located in Santa Rosa www.esa.com. ESA is a consulting company providing talent acquisition, workforce planning and career coaching services. You can reach her at 707-525-1010 or jklaxton@esa.com.