The turning of the calendar is a time for reflection and resolution; when we think about what we learned in the past year and want to do differently in the next. It's a healthy process for each of us as individuals, and also as managers and stewards of organizations. The only problem is, it doesn't usually work. In fact one study found that only 8% of Americans who make New Year's resolutions are successful.
Not surprisingly, the idea of relying on a personal vow or promise as a way of driving lasting behavioral change goes against just about every principle of goal-achievement. No matter the good intentions, most people can't change unless their goal is short-term, measurable, compelling, monitored, supported, planned out, and reinforced over time. This takes work and discipline, which is far beyond just making a statement about doing something differently.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't use the New Year as a springboard for change. In fact, many thriving organizations do just that in the first weeks of January (or the beginning of their own fiscal year). They launch new organizational structures, put key people into new positions, set stretch goals for business units, start up new projects, and use leadership off-sites to coordinate planning. These kinds of steps turn resolutions and good intentions into meaningful actions that have a high likelihood of success.
If you're in an organization that leverages the New Year as a time for a fresh start, you're probably already busy making plans for the coming weeks. If that's not the case, there are still steps that you can take as an individual manager to accelerate progress now — both for your team and for yourself:
First, ask yourself (and your team) the following question: What one or two specific shifts would make the biggest difference for the success of my unit or for my own career? One of my clients for example has challenged her team to double the number of deals they close over the next year, which will fundamentally change their business dynamics. Another manager has identified the need to create a new entry-level service that will make it easier for customers to experience doing business with the company.
Then, based on your answer to this question, engage your team and others in a rapid-cycle, high-energy innovation process — to quickly test ideas for making and sustaining the needed shift. In other words, instead of planning and studying the idea to death, push yourself and your team to get something accomplished in the first few weeks of the year. For example, in the first case, the manager is setting up a "deal fair" to present a large number of potential deals (most at a speculative stage) to a senior management advisory committee as a way of getting early input. This will allow her to better focus resources on deals that have the best chance of being approved. In the second case, the manager has set up four teams to quickly sketch out and test specific new service ideas with existing and potential clients. During January, these teams will compete against each other for funding to take their idea forward.
Obviously not everything can be done at the beginning of a new year. But if you choose your targets wisely, you can use the natural energy that's released when the calendar turns to jump-start your progress — and give you something to build upon for the rest of the year.