Imagine for a moment that it is mid-December and you are in a meeting to discuss year-end results with your team. Depending on your role, you might spend the first part of the meeting reflecting together on what happened in the new year for your team, functional department, and/or the organization as a whole. You might go into the meeting already having a good sense of what team goals for the new year will be based on current year results and your multi-year strategic plan.
How would you like to feel during that meeting? How would you like for your team members to feel? Excited, energized, and eager to take on new challenges in the year ahead? Or, stressed, uncertain, and dreading the year ahead?
Remember what it was like to plan at the end of 2020, in the midst of so much uncertainty?
Some people say our feelings have no place in business. Great leaders know the opposite is true. They know that goals without some passion to fuel them or targets that are so unrealistic that people choose to give up before trying rather than embrace certain failure are equally deadly for team performance and employee engagement.
What if you could do something today to significantly increase the likelihood that you and your team members will feel excited, energized, and eager to take on new challenges in the year ahead? What if I told you that your success in the coming years depends largely on you and your team asking the right questions, right now?
Now, you may be asking what even are the relevant or right questions to be asking now? After all, neither 2020 nor 2021 turned out the way we thought they would for most organizations. Instead of falling back your old playbook for a year-end review and future forecasting, I invite you to seek answers to these five top questions for future planning instead:
- How will we deliver on our commitments to internal staff?
- How will we deliver on our customer commitments?
- How will we deliver on our public commitments to our community?
- What/who will we invest in?
- What/who will we divest ourselves from?
So much of the learning curve for leaders and organizations I worked with in 2020, 2021 and 2022 was centered around a seismic shift in the social contract between workers and their employers, customers and sellers, makers and their suppliers, private citizens and their governments, and the list goes on.
Each of the questions above will help you and your team members reflect on these shifts in the ways that are most tangible and relevant for your business or organization. Having these important conversations now is essential if we want to emerge at the end of the year feeling something akin to hope and optimism for the future.
Whatever business you are in, and whether it is in a for-profit, not-for-profit, or government sector, acknowledge that you are entering a changed landscape from the one you were navigating before the pandemic. And, people—including our customers, our employees, and the general public—are watching and waiting to see how we deliver on our stated commitments to organizational culture change around sexual harassment; increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion; protecting the environment; and creating more resilient supply chains.
Too often in business we add things to our list of “musts” and “shoulds” before asking, “Must we?” or “Should we?” I want to suggest that as you ponder the five key questions above, you pay particular attention to number five, “What/who will we divest ourselves from?” Likely there are at least a few sacred cows in the form of people, policies, and practices you will need to jettison as well as people, policies, and practices that you will need to build or invest in far more in the new year than you did in previous years.
For example, many organizations have yet to link executive bonuses to success in advancing company diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. There are a number of reasons for this, but the bottom line is that organizations that do not run the risk of sending the message to customers, employees, and shareholders that increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion are not strategic priorities. That can hurt the organization’s ability to generate revenue and increase its market share of an increasingly diverse customer base.
Asking the five questions for the year ahead is hard, because they lift us out of the realm of simple metrics and measurable numbers on a spreadsheet, and challenge us to consider who we want to be as an organization in future years, not just what we will do as an organization.
If you’d like to expand on ways to think about honoring your commitments, you can go deeper with The Four Containers.
Who do you want to be as an organization in the future? We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and let us know. And, if we can support you in any way, we’d love to hear that, too.