I recently found backing for my hesitation about setting personal and organizational goals for the New Year from the highly successful leaders of Basecamp, who shun goals.
I used to love grandiose strategic retreats at the turn of the year to set policy until I realized it’s best to have strategy emerge from the grass roots, more idiosyncratically. And, in 2003, the book Beyond Budgeting convinced me that annual mandatory practice is often wasteful and too restrictive – better to keep operating with last year’s spending levels and be free to change patterns as opportunities emerge.
Does that mean, however, organizations should ignore the turning of the year – avoid any reflection or commitment to change?
Rather than becoming the Grinch who stole New Year’s planning, let me suggest some steps consistent with the concerns I raised. First, reflection is always good, individually and collectively. Admitting mistakes as part of that reflection makes it particularly worthwhile. At the same time, you could also sit down and follow writer Anna Meyer’s suggestion to come up with a reverse bucket list. Rather than listing all of the things you hope to one day achieve, write down all the things you’ve already accomplished – things that make you feel proud.
Instead of using this season for coming up with new things to do, why not write down practices and policies your organization would be wise to eliminate? Set up a team – preferably of renegades – to add to your personal list and that of your top team. It can be surprising how many prized activities are actually junk. Eliminating them will not only boost your spirits but also open up room for other opportunities to be embraced as there is more time and money for them.
Instead of coming up with new goals, blogger James Clear suggests focusing on developing and improving systems. If you’re a coach, for example, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day. He notes that goals reduce your current happiness as you are essentially saying you are not good enough. Goals are often so far in the distance it’s hard to sustain momentum. Goals also imply you have control of the future, which you don’t.
But systems are immediate, controllable, bring satisfaction as you follow them and help you to improve. “Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win,” he writes on his blog.
The turn of the year is usually a time for good feelings. What if sunny ways were to apply to a greater extent in your organization next year? Here I am starting to edge into goals and resolutions, but I am taken with the power of appreciation and of positive, appreciative inquiry. By studying what is successful and promising in your organization rather than what is wrong with it, morale and confidence improve.
What systems could you set up to make appreciative leadership more a reality in your organization? Here’s a start: Book a quarterly meeting to discuss what’s working well, how you can build or expand upon it, and what you can learn from such successes. Take your calendar and mark a recurring note for Fridays (or Mondays): Think of three people you can express appreciation to that day. The practice won’t change your culture dramatically but it will have an impact – perhaps more of an impact than vowing to dramatically change the culture but leaving that effort to sputter as so often happens.
Finally, meetings. Realistically, they are needed. But some are wasteful. And many could be more efficient. So, sticking to our practical and process approach, what can you do to improve them? Which ones – or which elements of meetings – can be eliminated? What procedures can be brought in, systematically, to improve them; possibilities abound, with much written on this topic. Meetings bring us together; what systematic tweaks can be used to build rapport?
That may seem more exhausting than simply holding a strategic planning session in January. And it does delve into the small stuff – not big, bold, new strategic thrusts that allow us to puff out our chests. But it may get you further. Small stuff adds up. Practical, systematic stuff gets done.
- This is the time of the year the media honours top leaders and news makers. Who is the person you work with or come in contact with regularly who should be named your Person of the Year? Have you told them? What could you learn from them? Would they be willing to mentor you?
- Who are the five individuals you don’t come in contact with who you most admire – politicians, academics, activists, artists and writers? What can you learn from their career success and abilities?
- Were those people you named above reasonably gender balanced? If not, what does that say? Who could you add to balance it – and learn from both women and men?
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