A client asked me this week, “What are the top five things you would recommend we do differently to really improve our business?” Not that this year was bad¸ but they knew they were capable of so much more.
No business owner sets out January 1 to lose money when they review their results at the end of the year, and yet that happens to more businesses than is necessary. No sales rep thinks to him or her self, “Now this is the year I’m really going to fail.” But how do they regain momentum after a tough month? A tough year? Let’s work under the assumption that you too want next year to be different, and look at what it takes to do so.
Plan Your Success
It’s that time of year. Maybe your management team is chin deep in goal setting and strategic planning, committing to each other that they will finally get that initiative under way – the one that will change the face of the company if only they could find the time. And maybe they’re setting professional and personal resolutions, such as making more prospect calls on a weekly basis, or finally committing to that 5K run on their lunch break.
Very possibly they’ve learned from experience that they will hardly remember those resolutions by Valentine’s Day. It’s human nature. We want something different, something more to strive for but are often met head on with those well–worn paths of behaviour called habits that get in the way of completing these goals despite our best intentions. Habits that take more than just willpower to break.
So the question becomes less about what you want to do in this new year and more about how to stick with it. Best practices have illustrated hundreds of times over that pursuing the following five steps will greatly increase your chances of sticking with your plan through to the big ball dropping in the upcoming year.
1. Make the Commitment
Guarantees in life, as much as we continually hope for them, are few. But one thing you can count on: You cannot expect different results when you continue to do the same things. You have to do different things to get different results – sometimes radically different and sometimes just a tweak here or there, but different nonetheless. And to do different things you must commit.
Why do we have so much trouble sticking to the commitments we make? Is it human nature? Are we just lazy? It’s neither and it’s both. The answer is highly personalized to the individual making the resolution. But I’ve got another guarantee – if you don’t explore the reasons why you didn’t stick to your last commitment, you are very unlikely to stick to the next one.
Commitment isn’t about force of will. It is about examining and re-evaluating the habits we have developed through time and experience. It’s about taking an honest look at what went on last year – the good, the not-so-good, the surprises, the expected, and all that was in between. It’s taking the view of last year and figuring out what and how to change those things that are not propelling you forward, whether personally or professionally. That’s commitment. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It does, however, have to be a priority.
Once you commit, then what?
2. Set Goals
A clear vision of the end guides decision making in the day to day.
Suppose this is the year you are going to improve the balance sheet. Fiscal austerity is the name of the game for governments around the world and many companies as well. So if that is your plan, what will you do when a key employee comes to you demanding significantly more compensation? Or a manager asks for a bigger budget? Will keeping that employee happy or bulking up that department serve the over-all vision? Possibly. But the vision of the end must remain the overriding paradigm to protect from fear and habits getting in the way of sound long-term decision making.
Now, let’s pretend you aren’t a goal setter and I am a mind-reader. Here’s what may be running through your mind: “I’ve tried setting goals and it doesn’t work,” or “Goals? That’s just a way to get yourself disappointed when you don’t hit them” and then you’d launch into a thousand other reasons to avoid going for your own personal Gold. So let’s address that.
We have all, at some point, avoided setting goals, often because of some level of fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown. Fear that if we don’t accomplish the goal we will be embarrassed. Fear that if we do accomplish the goal, our lives will change. For now, suspend your fear. Open your mind to the possibility that you will set goals for the coming year and start thinking about your roadmap to getting there.
3. Create a Map to Get “There”
That end result is critical, but quick on the heels of visualizing the end point is working out the steps to get you there. How much time will you spend on the steps to achieving those goals? What are the milestones to measure against along the way? Who is going to help you? Do they know about your goal? Are they capable of executing their tasks? And so on.
Yes, set the goal of $2 million in cash added to the balance sheet by the next year, but then ask the critical questions: What does that mean you have to do this week? Next week? This month? Next month? How many prospects need to be contacted in January to reap enough rewards in March? August? What if you’re off track in April? How will you regroup? How will you let everyone know? Maintain everyone else’s motivation to support you in the quest?
A map or plan of attack is critical to the success of any goal. You wouldn’t set out to drive to Mexico without charting your path on a map. At minimum you’d learn that you need to go South at the on-ramp or you could end up in Anchorage before you figured out your error.
A good plan outlines the steps that need to be accomplished, a timeline and assignments for the people to completing those steps. You don’t have to do everything, but you DO have to tell others if you are counting on them and when you expect them to finish their part.
4. Hire Mind Readers (or tell people what you expect of them)
There is something enticing about the idea of only hiring like-minded thinkers as yourself, knowing you’ll never have to tell them what to do.
Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way. We have to actually tell people what we want and need from them and we have to be specific because as much as Carnak the Magnificent would want us to believe it, people don’t read minds. Whether it’s telling your staff what you’re trying to accomplish, or when you need them to complete their part of the project, the chances of them fulfilling your expectations are infinitely greater if they understand from you, what is expected of them. Even telling your customers what is required to get the job done on time and on budget will pay huge dividends.
So the last question becomes, how can you know if you are effective?
5. Seek an Objective Perspective
Your plan is complete. You’ve committed – next year will be different. You’ve set the goals – where you are committed to going. You’ve developed a plan – the steps to get you there. You’ve enlisted the help of your coworkers and your clients, and you know how to explain your plan to them. There’s just one thing left. Get someone else to review your plan. No matter how brilliant you are, no matter how carefully you have plotted, an objective perspective can mean the difference between wasted effort and winning the gold.
Larger companies bring their plans before a board of directors – a group of people with diverse backgrounds and experience that have enough familiarity with the organization to provide insightful feedback. A small business may not have a formal board, but should have a group of trusted outside advisors that can provide feedback and identify the holes in the plan.
Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used to create them.” I don’t know about you, but I think he might have been on to something there.