10 Step Guide to Lead your Team into the New Year

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If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else. – Yogi Berra

It’s a new year and a fresh start for you and your team. It’s also one of the most important times for you as a leader. While it’s fun reminiscing about 2014, it’s critical that you quickly align your leadership team and total organization to focus on the goals for 2015.

Having a clear, concise, well-communicated set of goals for your organization has many benefits:

  • It aligns the team at all levels
  • It focuses the team on the right priorities
  • It sets the benchmark to measure performance
  • It can be used to establish incentives and drive behavior
  • It defines what success looks like in the new year

The problem is that most companies fail to focus on a clear set of goals for the year. David Leonard and Claude Coltea wrote in a recent Gallup article that, “The problem is that in too many companies, front-line employees receive dozens of high-priority messages — some complementary, some competing — from executives, managers, and change leaders each day. These conflicting messages make it difficult for workers to know what tasks or metrics they should focus on during a given day.” This lack of focus creates confusion, added expense, and waste in any organization. This is why annual business planning is extremely important for every organization.

You might be thinking that it’s too late to conduct your planning session for the new year, but it’s actually the perfect time. I like to conduct my annual planning session right after the financial and operational metrics are finalized for the year, usually in mid January. Knowing the final numbers creates the perfect foundation for the planning session. The mid January timing is also good because, at this point, budgets are finalized, top down goals have been established, and mandated programs have already been made known.

The annual planning session is critical in developing a clear and concise set of goals for the new year. Ideally, it can be done in one day and I prefer to go off-site to minimize the disruptions. The session has ten easy steps:

  1. Review last year’s financial performance compared to budget
  2. Review last year’s key metrics compared to goals
  3. Review last year’s key initiatives compared to goals
  4. Conduct an honest assessment of the prior year: What went well? What went wrong? What do you need to more of? What do you need to improve on? What were some of the key lessons from the prior year?
  5. Review the new year’s financial budget and establish stretch targets. Build basic waterfall charts for order and profit growth to reach the stretch objectives
  6. Review any new mandated metrics and initiatives
  7. Develop the new year’s key metric goals
  8. Develop the new year’s list of key initiatives
  9. Get commitment from team
  10. Develop a one-page list of the new year’s goals– Key Financials, Key Metrics, and Key Initiatives to send to the leadership team

The discussions and debates during this process helps build consensus of the key lessons of the prior year as well as an agreement on the way forward in the new year. Being able to debate these issues increases the level of buy-in from team members as well.

The final output, a one-page list of the new year’s goals, becomes the guiding document for the new year. It is important this document is cascaded throughout the entire organization with front-line managers explaining the importance of each element in the plan. If done properly, you will quickly align your leadership team and total organization to focus on the goals for 2015.

3 Steps to Depart your Comfort Zone

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A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” ― William G.T. Shedd

Near the end of the Cold War, I made seven patrols as a young Naval Officer on the nuclear submarine, USS Tennessee. One of those patrols was over the holidays. Being deployed over Christmas and New Year’s Eve was not a lot of fun. It was tough to be away the things that brought me comfort: my home, my friends, my family, my favorite foods, and the holiday traditions I love.

In fact, most of my time in the Navy was spent outside my comfort zone. The nature of the job demanded it. Months away from home, days without sleep, cramped quarters, tough technical issues, difficult leadership situations, and the stress of knowing a mistake could have deadly consequences was just part of the job. The funny thing is that I would do it again in a heartbeat. The reason is that being out of my comfort zone demanded that I be my absolute best at all times. The experience I gained in those tough years was critical to helping me develop as a leader. The truth is getting outside your comfort zone is the best way to grow as a leader.

I think the quote from William Shedd should be rewritten to say, “A leader is safe in his comfort zone, but that’s not what leaders are for.”

As we approach the time of year where we start to think about goals and resolutions for 2015, we should challenge ourselves to think about how we can depart our comfort zone in the new year. Here’s 3 simple steps to plan your escape from your comfort zone:

1. Define your comfort zone. Think about how you spent your time in 2014. You probably don’t realize how much time you actually spend in your comfort zone. Which employees or departments did you spend the most time with? Who did you go to lunch with regularly? Which customers or vendors did you visit the most? What strategies did deploy most often? Which peers were you most comfortable around? What technologies did you study the most? What management blogs or websites did you visit most often? What meetings do you regularly attend?

2. Define where you are uncomfortable. Think about potential blind spots, weaknesses, or areas where you are less comfortable. Which departments or employees are you less familiar with? Who are the peers that you have less in common with? Who are your toughest customers or vendors that you may have been avoiding? What are the big strategies you have been uncomfortable to implement? What technologies or industry trends are you the least familiar with? What’s happening in your business that scares you the most as a leader?

3. Develop a plan to spend more time outside your comfort zone in 2015. Getting outside your comfort zone means spending less time in familiar seas and spending more time in uncharted waters. The best way to make the shift is to write down what you are going to do differently. List the activities in your comfort zone that you will consciously spend less time on in the new year. List the uncomfortable areas where you will spend more time in. Make this combined list a part of your goals and resolutions for 2015.

Getting outside your comfort zone will challenge you and push you to be your absolute best. It will create new experiences where you will develop faster as a leader. It is important to make a conscious choice to escape the things that make you most comfortable if you want to continue to grow. The best way to depart the comfort zone is to create a plan and stick to it. It will be tough, but the personal and professional growth will be well worth the effort.