Each December, as I close out the year, I naturally start to think about what’s coming next. This is a great time to plan where we’re going in our companies and careers. But there are 3 pitfalls that could sabotage your plan:
- Failing to Reflect
- Being Vague in Your Vision
- Planning Alone
Let me tell you a little more about each mistake and share a few exercises you can use to avoid them.
Reflect on Where You Are
Just as GPS needs a starting place for any journey, you need to understand and evaluate your current situation. If you fail to reflect on the last year, you’re missing out on important insights. This exercise gives you key context that will make your plans more relevant and accurate.
- What did we set out to do?
- What did we accomplish?
- What got in the way?
- How did the landscape of our industry or of our market or our business change between a year ago when we were planning out the year, and what actually happened?
I also use the “Start, Stop, Keep” exercise as a simple and impactful way to evaluate the activities and behaviors related to the past year’s performance.
- What do I need to start doing?
- What do I need to stop doing?
- What do I need to continue doing?
And then widen the scope and ask “What do we as a team or company need to start, stop, and continue?”
Invite your key leaders and team members for input. You’ll get valuable information about what’s working and what’s not.
You want to focus on what you’re doing really well and make sure you prioritize it. And then, there are usually things that are not getting results. Some activities may even be result in the opposite of what you actually want. Think about how freeing it is to set those down and find a better way to use your resources.
2. Create a Vibrant Vision
No vague intentions here. Aim to put together a clear and descriptive vision for your department or organization. Any employee who reads the vision should understand exactly what the company is aiming to accomplish.
Here are some questions you can ask as you write your vision…
- What do we want our revenues to be?
- What do we want our expenses or profitability to be?
- What is our reputation either in the company or our reputation in the industry?
- What is our relationship with our customers?
- How does it look when our customers have more success thanks to our product/service?
- What does our team look like and how do we show up each day?
- How many people are on our team?
- How do we get along and communicate with each other?
- How do we celebrate each other?
- What is our culture like?
- How do our company values show up in the ways we work together and with customers?
I try to create this very specific picture of what it feels like to walk into our team all day, every day next year – all the way up until the last day. And how we’re celebrating the achievements that we’ve accomplished!
Where will we be and what will we be celebrating at the end of the year?
Dedicate some focused time to work on this. Clearly articulate your vision, so that it feels almost like looking at a photograph. Your team members know exactly where it is that we want to be and what success looks like at the end.
3. Ask Others for Input
Don’t make the mistake of planning alone. Unless you’re going to implement the plan alone, you’ll be relying on other people.
And hopefully, they’re really good at their jobs. Bring them in!
I gather my leadership team together and share the vision for the year.
“Here’s where we’re going to be in about 12 months. What do we need to do to get there?”
I work with them to figure out what strategy we need to put in place, what goals and milestones we need to hit, and what roles we’ll play.
Remember, only one person can be accountable for something. You can have more than one person responsible and contributing. But the buck stops with the one person who is accountable.
We agree on the strategy as a team, and then we divide up accountabilities. Each person must understand what they need to do in order to execute on that strategy to achieve that vision.
And that’s what we check in on each week to ensure we’re making progress and find opportunities to adjust and improve.
Looking Further Out
Typically, I like the one-year vision to be part of a longer-term vision. I often work with clients to look out three to five years. The longer window of time lets you go big!
Then we step it back – what needs to happen at the end of this year to be on track for the 3-year vision?
By looking further out, you’ll tap into the aspirational aspects of the long-term vision and ensure it’s actionable for the year ahead.
Maximize Your Planning
While the changing calendar often prompts planning, you can do this visionary and strategic work any time of year. Here are two ways get the most out of the effort:
- Bring in a facilitator so you can participate fully. Your facilitator can stimulate better discussion and create an inclusive environment. They’ll also keep the group focused and on schedule.
- Set aside focused time for your key people to work on this together. You’ll get better results when they’re able to connect with each other and disconnect from lower priorities.
If you’re leading a small department, this might look like a 90-minute or half day workshop during your least busy time. If you’re leading a large group or the entire company, this might be an offsite or an organized program dedicated to high-level strategic work, like the Key Executive Mastery Program.
When you’re intentional about reflection, clarity of vision, and collaboration, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the coming year. Your team will be aligned around a thoughtful plan and ready to adjust course as the journey progress. Here’s to a year filled with growth and success!