I love the energy of the New Year. For the first few weeks in January, everything seems possible, from small office improvements to doubling sales growth. At Bluewolf, it was my favorite time to come into the office; every team was energized and ready to tackle new goals and challenges. The trick is to use that energy and commitment wisely. I read a quote recently that said, “We always overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in a decade.” If you care about the mental and emotional health of your team, the best piece of advice I can offer as we enter a new year and a new decade is this: don’t let the promise of a new year lead you to set impossible standards and unachievable goals.
It’s only two weeks into 2020, and I’ve seen dozens of articles on how to make the new year count for your business (ramp up growth, new product lines, bigger, better teams, etc.). All of them capitalize on the illusion of endless energy and commitment, conveniently ignoring the consequences of not meeting those audacious goals. I’ve experienced the consequences of overcommitting firsthand.
One year, my executive team and I let our vision for the future supersede our employees’ bandwidth and capabilities. We schemed and planned over the holidays and then laid out the year ahead in enthusiastic detail, and with New Year stars still in their eyes, everyone bought in. Fast-forward to July and August, and we weren’t hitting our numbers. Morale was low and attrition was high. The cost of our new year’s ambitions hit our employees hard and instead of having a banner year of explosive growth as we had hoped, our performance that year lagged far behind our expectations.
Blinded by our enthusiasm, we forgot something crucial: change is difficult and slow. Any change to your business involves three key areas: your employees, processes, and the supporting technology. When introducing something new, be ready to teach a whole new domain of expertise, which involves getting your teams to buy-in, additional training and technology, and finally customer adoption.
That crucial first step, employee buy-in, is easiest at this time of year, so don’t squander it. Take some time over the next few weeks to ride along with your employees as they serve customers. Learn more about their pain points and opportunities first-hand and then take that knowledge and apply it to the parts of your business you already have a strong strategy around. Invest in those thirds, test the idea, and finally vet it against your customers to ensure that the change is relevant, useful, and necessary to provide an excellent customer experience. Did I mention that change is slow?
A hallmark of leadership is patience, but we often overlook it in favor of flash-in-the-pan trends that don’t necessarily serve company or employee interests. Before you make changes or present your new strategy, ask yourself: what sort of burden are you putting on your people?
Enjoy the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed feeling in your office and yes, capitalize on it to create a plan to extend that energy through the entire year, but don’t ask employees to do the impossible. Grand plans have a tendency to backfire and have a negative effect on employee morale and performance, not to mention the toll it takes on their mental and physical health as they work longer hours to try to meet those goals. Be careful with this energy and set ambitious goals, but achievable ones. At the time of year where people will sign up for anything, it’s your responsibility as a leader to make sure they’re not signing up for failure.