Nervous to set goals for 2017 because you don't think you can make them stick? Here is a roadmap to ensure your plans for 2017 can be efficiently carried out, and sustained, into 2018.
New Year’s resolutions are a bit depressing to me. They only serve to remind me of all the things I’ve resolved to change – like trying to avoid road rage in traffic, or just avoiding traffic, period – but have failed to maintain. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m all for change, and like for most of you, 2016 was a challenging year and I’d like to see some things done differently in 2017.
So how do we start this brand spanking, bright-and-shiny new year differently, and maintain that resolve and change throughout the year? Let’s unpack that below:
1. Understand the need
You know when you’re sitting behind your computer at month end with five different tabs open between your online banking, your quotes spreadsheet, your projects spreadsheet, your emails and your invoices?
You’re hunched over your keyboard like a crazed person, squinting at the screen as if it’s cut you off in traffic, while shouting over your shoulder to your production manager about the status of jobs that can or cannot be invoiced, with the phone squished between your shoulder and your ear, your accountant on hold on the other end as you try figure out which suppliers need to be paid and which sales person needs what comms.
Suddenly there’s a 'light-bulb moment' when you know in the marrow of your bones that there has to be a better way to run a business. When you understand, and accept, that change is needed, you commit to making that change. You are now at the starting blocks of your change process.
Related: Business goals worksheet
2. Investigate your options
Now that you have tied your laces and pitched up at the starting line, the real work starts. If we stick with the month-end example above, we can unpack the change process as follows:
a) Clarify what needs to change. I can’t go on using spreadsheets to do everything in my business, from manual quotes to job tracking to asset registry to invoices. This must change.
b) Understand why it must change. Using spreadsheets to run a complex business is an inefficient and staff-intensive approach, prone to human error, duplications and dropped balls. But, the bottom line is, I am potentially losing profit. This is why it must change.
c) Investigate how it can change. I can hire an accountant who will do it all for me on a full-time basis, but this comes with a large salary budget that I may or may not be able to justify or afford. Alternatively, I can find an ERP system that does what I need, in less time and with more accuracy, and that I can afford to sustain. This is how it can change.
3. Replace the old with the new
This saying is easier said than done, “Out with the old, in with the new” and if change is going to happen, it needs to be carefully managed for a business to create conscious, sustainable change.
a) Don’t wing it. This is not the time to ‘go with your gut’. If you find yourself thinking, ‘they must just get used to the change’ you can be sure to expect a few HR headaches down the road. People approach change differently, so include them and manage this change with careful planning.
b) Involve the team as much as possible. If the team feels like they are part of the change discussions, buy-in and adoption will be processed more efficiently. Regardless of how beneficial this change is, every employee will go straight to, “How will this affect me? Do I have to do more / less? Will I get paid more / less?” Try a team workshop to discuss the need for change, and offer a safe space to throw around ideas and discuss what the change will mean for them.
c) Know your audience. The more you understand your team and each person’s personality, the better able you are to judge what motivates people – and yourself – to sustainably change. Are they spontaneous risk-takers, or are they reliable types who steady the ship? There are loads of great personality tests your team can take that will provide insight into what personality types you are dealing with, and how to best allay their fears and play to their strengths during change.
d) Commit to change. Be it a system that will reduce the usual aneurysm-inducing strain of month-end invoicing into a few simple clicks while sipping coffee, or a new gym routine, or better eating habits, your change will need your emotional, financial and time commitment to be a success. Look to the long-term benefit of business efficiency improvement, staff satisfaction, and probably a longer, happier life-expectancy for you, to sustain you through the initial short-term disruption.
Related: The key to goal setting
4. Embed the change
Now that you have replaced the old with the new, the change needs to be reinforced until the team operates at an unconscious competence level. There are usually four stages of competence:
Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence. Otherwise known as blissful ignorance or your blind spot. When you don’t know what you don’t know.
Stage 2: Conscious incompetence. Once you’ve been trained and it feels like you’re walking through mud as you mechanically slog through the new, unfamiliar steps, painfully aware of how inept your performance is. Make sure you and your team have good support and training available for whatever system or change you bring in.
Stage 3: Conscious competence. This is where it starts feeling good. You know what you are doing, and can perform the new task efficiently, and you’re starting to see the benefit of the change.
Stage 4: Unconscious competence. When it feels like ‘second nature’ to do things the new way and you can do it with ease.
Finally, as a business owner, and a leader, your best approach is to create a culture that embraces change. Try to communicate with authenticity and empathy, and give everyone time and space to work through the changes at their own pace. By the end of 2017, you should be able to look back on the positive changes you have implemented, and sustained, in the year and have a good idea of what changes 2018 will need too.