Santa claus receiving gifts from presents production line in factory Photo: iStock

Deriving business lessons from Santa Claus is difficult. Despite the ubiquity of the Santa Claus brand, little is known about the actual workings of the operation. Santa’s business is privately held; he prepares no publicly available annual reports and publishes no audited financial statements. (I did address a list of questions to “Santa Claus, The North Pole, Postal Code H0H 0H0.” An unsigned response simply asked me to continue believing in “magic.”)

In spite of this I’ve conducted a close analysis of Santa’s operations and have defined four sets of resolutions you can make that will benefit your business next year.

1. Use Big Data

For untold decades Santa has been collecting input about the wishes of children at Christmas time, and his analysis of the data collected demonstrates an extraordinary level of sophistication. A child might not get exactly what she wished for but will get exactly what she wanted. For example, she might have wished for a pony but will still exhibit deep satisfaction in the substitution of, say, a red snow-racer sled. These amazing extrapolations suggest that Santa’s data science department must have access to very deep, complex—almost magic—algorithms.

Resolution: In 2017 your business, like Santa’s, should focus on collecting meaningful customer data and on using it to understand and fulfill their wishes before they even know what they are. You might need some of your own magic to make this happen.

2. Distribution is everything

Clearly Santa has invested in an extraordinary supply chain management system. His primary transportation mode is by air, using a single delivery vehicle. This setup, and its implied capacity issues, calls into question the theory that Santa operates from only one distribution centre adjacent to his North Pole headquarters. The sleigh is either much bigger than commonly illustrated or Santa engages in multiple two way flights. Alternatively he might have a number of satellite distribution sites similar to Amazon’s fulfillment centres. Speaking of Amazon, one must believe that Jeff Bezos is working very hard to understand how Santa’s system delivers everything overnight without prohibitive handling fees.

Resolution: Your business should resolve to pay special attention next year to your logistics and distribution systems. You might as well close up shop if you can’t get product to your customers on-time and as wished for. It is worth noting here that Santa’s energy supply is very green with only eight tiny reindeer required to power the sleigh. Think about how your distribution systems might reduce their environmental footprint.

3. Pay attention to employee engagement

Again, with no annual reports or published employee engagement surveys, we can only make guesses about the commitment of Santa’s workforce based on their 100% on-time wish fulfillment. There has been no reported attrition from the workshop and no reports of any kind have been posted on LinkedIn or GlassDoor. As far as we know Santa’s employees might only have one day off in the whole year. The only thing we know for sure about Santa as a manager is that he is “jolly”. That right there might be the key to employee engagement.

Resolution: As a manager, resolve to be more jolly next year and see what happens to your engagement scores on the next survey.

4. Your brand is a promise

Santa’s brand is visible just about everywhere. Certain features of his image have changed over the many years that he’s been in business, but the central values of his brand—his core promises to customers—have remained consistent. In this respect, Santa’s brand is quite unusual, as he appears to have outsourced his representation to just about anyone who expresses an interest in, and a commitment to, its principles. Ambassadors of the Santa brand include elves (when not busy in the workshop), shopping centre “Santas” and parents. Santa requires no written contracts between himself and his brand representatives. It seems that his only requirement is that reps adhere to the “true spirit of Christmas.” This imperative is also clearly central to the culture of Santa’s organization and its ability to deliver on the brand’s promises. This is perhaps why Santa is able to enforce the brand promise without resorting to costly litigation; the values of the brand drive the culture and in turn are supported by the culture.

Resolution: Creating Santa-like brand strength is a three-step process. First, work on a clear definition of your brand as a set of values and promises made to customers. Communicate these clearly to your elves. Second, understand how the components of your culture are aligned with your brand and work on improving that alignment. Third, remember that your elves represent your brand every day. Resolve to understand and fulfill their wishes as best you can. Did I write “elves”? Sorry. I meant to write “employees.” I can’t imagine what got into me.

Martin Birt is the president of HRaskme.comAfter serving seven years in the Canadian Army as a combat arms officer, he has enjoyed a thirty-five year career as a human resources manager, consultant and sought-after adviser to business executives. He can be contacted here.


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