8 Tips for starting the year off strong

By January 30, 2017 Leadership One Comment

The new year symbolically represents an opportunity for a new beginning—a chance to make changes or improvements from the previous year. A new year feels fresh, invigorating and like we are being given a chance to right wrongs, course correct and grow. As a business leader, there is always the expectation and pressure to improve performance from one year to the next and it can be difficult to choose how and where to focus that will actually lead to results.

Below are tips for starting off the new year with clear eyes, an open mind and a strong path to business success.

Take a stand against distractions.
As individuals and leaders, we need to manage distractions and encourage our teams to do the same to enhance productivity and workplace happiness. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks every three minutes, on average*. And it can take 23 minutes just to get back to where they left off. Set phone notifications on silent to reduce distractions from things that don’t need immediate attention. Institute an office-wide agreed upon “focus hour” and discourage sending emails during this time to encourage focused work.

Widen the lens in which you see the business.
Surround yourself with great leaders who can provide different perspective. These can be friends, colleagues, industry groups, etc. It’s very likely you don’t have all the answers but if you speak with enough smart people, you’ll get far more right than wrong—and that’s really the key to winning.

Be intellectually curious within the organization as well. Make it a point to understand what people are working on and how you impact their work, especially those with whom you may interact with but do not work closely.

Be exceptional at ONE thing.
No one needs another vendor of multiple mediocre offerings. Understand where you excel and focus on that core capability for growth this year. Being all things to all people prevents deep connections from forming, stretches resources and can dilute the ability to perform the true mission of any company—to be profitable and serve customers. Concentrate on the vital thing you do exceptionally well as a company and execute.

Make sure your plan for 2017 stays relevant.
Your plan should be documented, outlining clear measures of success for each goal. The vision and goals must also be communicated—if we want everyone rowing in the same direction, people need to know where they are headed, why and how they can directly contribute. It is also critically important to actively monitor progress on the plan throughout the year. Assign an individual or a team of leaders to be responsible, hold people accountable and make corrections as the year progresses.

If you do not yet have a plan for 2017, make one now.
The best way to start the year off strong from a planning perspective is to prepare at the end of the current year and lock down as much of the new year’s goals and plans before January 1 rolls around. If you did not do this at the end of 2016, it’s okay—just take the time to do it now before the year heats up and remember that it should be done again in Q4 2017 for 2018. Don’t operate under the assumption that 12 months is a long time. For every month that you are not executing, you lose another 8% of the year.

Set stretch goals.
You would be surprised what people can accomplish when the bar is set high. It can drive out-of-the-box thinking which can spur exponential change versus moderate improvement. Just make sure what is set are “stretch” goals to inspire and not “completely unreachable” goals that will overwhelm.

Ask yourself what you need to start, continue or stop doing.
This exercise can be tremendously helpful both for you personally as a leader and for the business. It may seem simple and likely to yield obvious responses but the practice of mindfully reflecting on current performance before engaging in something new is critically important to growth. Make a list of last year’s successes to motivate the same behavior that achieved good results and failures so you do not repeat them.

Related to this exercise is one that can positively impact not only productivity but also work-related stress: review tough working relationships. Consider relationships that were particularly prickly in 2016 and assess if you can start or stop doing something that will make them better this year.

Commit to communicating with your team on a consistent basis.
If you do this already, kudos! If you don’t, make it a point to build time into your calendar for connecting with your team. The frequency of this connection should be dependent on your structure and based on necessity. For teams that are dispersed, a monthly call can be really beneficial and the team will begin to look forward to connecting. Setting a regular time to catch up can open up opportunities to collaborate on projects and make the team feel more connected to one another. And stick to the set time—people appreciate and are comforted by predictability.

*http://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf?

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