The calendar year represents the start of a new year for many businesses. Others will be looking at April 1st for their financial year start. Nevertheless, everyone will be facing the change of year period and it is always a great time for reflection. The holidays should be fully occupied with family responsibilities or pure down time, to rest and recharge. Take some time when you get back to the office, to start reflecting on the coming year. Are we where we need to be in the business? Is this thought depressing? We all enter year three of Covid hell. Runaway war inspired energy shortages and inflation are now rampart globally. It is hard to be optimistic in many industries. Certainly my industry, the training business, hasn’t seen any daylight in the long hard night as yet.
As leaders, it is good to step away from the daily grind of the business to spend some time thinking. Usually most of our thinking time is very immediate, responding to problems and crises. The melee of daily battle is not the best time to think about the big picture. The new year is a key opportunity to work on our business and not just work in the business. By this stage the business plans for the next calendar year or the April start of the fiscal year will have been completed or pretty much advanced.
Here are some additional things to contemplate.
Is our Why strong enough?
The rationale for our existence as a business has the obvious outcomes of revenues produced and shareholder value provided. Are we doing better than that though? The intrinsic value of the work will differ from individual to individual, so we probably will never get it perfectly right. Directionally though, are we satisfied that we have the team all focused on the same goals and coordinated in their understanding of the rationale for that direction?
As we get swept up in the busyness of day after day, we can get separated from our cause, our mission. We will have referred to the Why at some point for sure, but did it permeate the minds of the team? Is everyone interpreting the Why in a similar way? How regularly do we bring this topic up? Once a year is definitely not going to be enough, so the start of the year is a good chance to remind us all of the bigger picture here.
In our company’s case, we go through the Vision, Mission, Values every single day with our Daily Dale morning meeting. By rotation, one of the team will take the lead and go through the process. These days we do it online rather than physically in the office, but we kept it going, Covid or otherwise, because it is important to remind us all of what we are doing here. Is it enough? Frankly “no”. One of the problems with doing something like this every day is we all go into semi-automatic mode and the words don’t always fully penetrate. As the leader, I need to top it up with a regular exploration of the Why behind the words to stimulate everyone’s thinking. What is your cadence to bring up the Why for attention?
Do we have the right people, on the right bus and in the right seats?
Our options in Japan are rapidly closing out regarding quality of staff. They just aren’t making enough Japanese anymore and so the population decline is creating a zero sum game of recruiting and retaining staff. The difficulties in recruiting new staff means that we have to be able to keep existing staff, even if they are not the right people, on the right bus or in the right seat. Do we need to move some people around or create some new positions to better use their talents?
In the old days, we would simply fire them and replace them with more capable people, but that path is fraught today. Do we need to spend more time training some of the crew who are not producing at the level we need. Do we need to hire at a lower talent level, train them well and create more support systems, so that the real stars in the firm can outperform? If a low performer goes from increasing revenues from ¥500,000 a month to ¥1,000,000 a month that looks like a really good result. However, if a top performer can go from ¥5,000,000 a month to ¥6,000,000, the overall result is at scale and much more significant. How can we help that top performer hit the high notes of production?
What about my ongoing professional education?
Ask yourself, what did I do to improve my professional abilities as a leader last year? If the answer is “I worked really hard”, then count that as a failing grade. Everyone can work hard over long hours, so that is not as tremendous differentiator. What was the quality of your thinking? How was the depth of your strategy for the business? How well could you anticipate trouble and head it off at the pass? What were the new initiatives you introduced and how did they fair? Did you stray out of your comfort zone and push yourself to grow as a professional?
Often we are the impediment to progress, because we are not good enough. We have been too busy to study, to train, to read, to listen, to challenge ourselves with new perspectives. How many insights did we achieve in the last year? How many new initiatives did we introduce? How much experimentation did we try? Were we driving for more speed and leading the charge in that regard? What do we need to change up for this next year?
Carve out some time for yourself at the start of the New Year. It is easy to get swept back up into the whirlwind of the everyday demands of the business, but resist that temptation. Give yourself a chance to reflect, think, imagine and plan.