“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” ~ Plato
Leaders beware: the first week of January is a tough time for a lot of people at work.
Your employees are returning to their jobs with fond memories of vacations and holiday celebrations lingering in their minds, and the thought of starting over against new goals and objectives is likely feeling quite oppressive.
If you’re at all human yourself, you too may be feeling some degree of dread about taking on the New Year and also inclined to ease into things a bit before you fully engage. Contrary to these impulses, I urge you to go bold and hit the New Year running.
What happens (or doesn’t happen) in January sets the tone for what’s to occur in the next eleven months. Throughout my long career, I watched many teams start out slowly to begin the year and never fully recover to achieve their most important annual targets. More inspiring is that teams (and leaders) who get off to great starts in January almost always ensure a highly successful year ahead.
There are four things I have learned will set you and your teams up for spectacular achievement this year – if you take action on them now and in this order:
1. Express Genuine Thanks To Your Team For Last Year’s Performance.
Before you have the right to ask your employees to support you in the achievement of this year’s targets, you must first ensure they know how much you appreciate what they accomplished last year.
So often, we as leaders are anxious to get to work on the next important goal – to plow forward – that we forget how necessary and important it is to acknowledge what’s already been achieved. Moving on this way, without expressing gratitude, is managerial malpractice.
Acknowledging performance has the effect of inspiring greater future effort and commitment. It helps widen people’s perspectives of what’s achievable. Thanking and praising people for the work they do is perhaps a leader’s most important responsibility.
So before you make any further mention of how important it will be for the team to meet its new years’ objectives, compose a thoughtful communication to express how much you personally appreciate and value the work your employees did this past year. My best advice is that you avoid including caveats that diminish the power of your recognition. Say “I am honored by how hard you all worked to help us achieve so many of our most important targets last year,” and not “Even though we failed to meet one of our key revenue goals, I appreciate how hard you each worked.”
I believe the energy of every human being is our spirit and to “inspire” means to fill with spirit – to uplift and motivate. An authentic communication from one’s leader that expresses true appreciation is powerfully inspiring. What I know for sure: your people will scale mountains for you this year if they are certain everything they did to support you last year was valued.
2. Re-imagine, Restructure, Re-align & Rejuvenate
January is the perfect month to shake things up – to enliven and improve your operations. So take time to evaluate your greatest strengths and limitations and be willing to make changes in order to eliminate static or interference.
January is ideal for experimenting and trying out new things. Consider reconfiguring parts of the team or dedicating a group of people to finding fixes for problems that have historically limited your performance. Identify what changes you feel are most needed and then take action. Make sure to articulate a new vision for the future so everyone who works for you knows where you’re headed and can contribute to the new model. Contrary to what we may instinctively think and feel, change is good.
3. Schedule One-On-One Meetings With All Direct Reports
The start of a new year is a time of reflection for all of us – including your employees. These last few years have been particularly difficult for many workers inasmuch as they’ve been asked to do more with fewer people to support them. Consequently, you should be anticipating that your employees are thinking about their work – whether it fulfills them, whether they’re contributing to the extent they desire and whether they are growing. You need to meet with each person on your team and dig into the answers to these kinds of questions.
As I wrote about in Lead From The Heart, having conversations like these is essential to the well being of your employees and will have great influence not just on their motivation at work, but also as to whether they remain working for you.
The meetings I’m proposing are not annual review sessions. Have these – but not now. In these discussions, you want to discover your employee’s dreams. I’m not kidding. How can you develop and grow them? Are there projects or unique tasks they would like to be a part of that would make their hearts sing? If you commit to helping your people achieve their personal dreams of work, and build a plan of action to support them, you’ll inspire previously unimaginable commitment, engagement and productivity. Make sure to also express in person why having that person on your team means so much to you.
4. Challenge The Team To Start The Year Off Fast
While others were taking their time to get going, I have always asked my teams to excel in January. There is nothing more exciting than to get into February knowing you’re already well ahead of your targets and have established great momentum right out of the gate. Everyone on the team is invigorated when they see that they started the year of with a bang and have achievements to point to very early on in the year. Hold contests, amplify recognition of efforts – do anything and everything to convey the importance of getting off to a fast start and then hold a little party in February to thank everyone for supporting you. Win in January and you will win all year long.
Have a happy and prosperous New Year!
Leadership Consultant, Mark C. Crowley is the author of "Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century." To reach Mark or to read more of his blogs, please visit markccrowley.com.