Whether you are leading a public or private company, your fiscal year probably ends in December 2020. That means September is the last month of the third quarter and whether it is being a good one or not, the fourth will get a lot of pressure for everybody within the organization.
This global pandemic has caught us off guard and has changed the game for most of us. A few organizations have profited from the situation, we can argue they were not prepared either but were lucky to be in the right industry at the right time. However, most companies are not going to have a good business year.
Do you feel like 2020 is lost? I think not! Here are 7 steps to save the year.
1. Stop Doing What You Are Doing Right Now And Breathe
You are probably scrambling to figure out how to achieve your 2020 sales goals and reduce costs to offset the lost volume. You are no doubt stressed out and so is your team. There are no new ideas, creativity or innovation you can grasp in this moment.
The urgency of the problem makes you keep focusing on solving it in the action, in the doing. But we are first, human beings and then, human doings. Connecting with who we are in the present is a reset that can help you get unstuck.
Stop. Take a deep breath or five or ten. Settle down. Quiet your mind for a minute. Feel your body, listen to your heart beat. Breathe again. Just step out of that roller coaster you are in so you can see ahead. I know stopping and breathing may sound counter intuitive, but try it and it will pay off soon enough.
Conscious breathing helps to turn off the body’s stress response creating a calming effect, along with an increase in energy and concentration.
It is best to do this first, before you address your team.
2. Pull Your Team Together And Bring Them To The Table
You are not the only one scrambling. Your team is too. Each of your team members could benefit from stopping and recalculating. Why not do this as a team? Relating from a different place in times of crisis is very powerful and can give you the energy you need to move forward.
Whether you have two or ten people in your team, each brings their own uniqueness, mind, heart, body and energy to work. Tapping into this powerhouse can be what saves you and your business. Don’t underestimate what your team can do. More importantly, what they are willing to do, who they are willing to be and what would they commit to; if you give them space to create, the freedom to make mistakes and the reward and recognition they deserve when they succeed.
As a leader you are not alone, you have your team. Invite them to the table so you can think together and commit to the same goals. Set the example by doing step one first and then ask them to do the same. Remember: stop, breathe, listen to your body, breathe again. Now look ahead with a clearer mind and settled heart.
3. Dust Off Your Strategic Long-term Plan
You have your team at the table, now what?
Dust off your strategic plan and take your time to recall the vision for your business together with your team. Review the mission, the values you abide by and what is the main reason your organization exists. What is the problem you want to solve for your customers? Reflect on that together and think: what elements of that plan are really at play and which ones are not yet being reflected on our actual plans?
Starting with the strategy will help you address that important question: Why?
John Doerr, venture capitalist and chairman of Keliner Perkins describes in his 2018 Ted Talk, how truly transformational teams combine their ambitions to their passion and to their purpose, developing a clear and compelling sense of Why. And how this can be an inspiring launchpad for specific plan goals.
Why are you involved in this business? What is in it for you? Why does your team stay committed? What needs to change to make the strategy happen as you dreamed it?
Who, how, when, what are all good starting questions to follow the why.
4. Put Your 2020 Annual Plan To The Test
Compare your 2020 plan goals with those in the strategic long-term plan. How much do they align? Where are they misaligned and what is the impact of those gaps today? How will continuing in this direction affect the company’s sustainability and competitiveness?
Jim Collins, author of the best-selling Good to Great, reminds us how great companies “confront the brutal facts, yet never lose faith”. Embrace this bitter moment with your team to do a half-year or three quarters of the year review using thought-provoking questions to unleash the needed change. Avoid coercion and blame, focus on generating debate and creative thinking. Once you have “brutally confronted” your numbers and the reality, leave that behind and focus on what you can do now.
You already know the facts, and it is now time to look at the intangibles. “Managing an organization strictly by quantifiable goals will make you miss the qualitative goals that are usually tied to people’s behavior…” as explained by Ben Horowitz in his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. These goals support the long-term vision for the business, are difficult to measure and may be the most important ones.
When you focus the energy in just achieving the current year’s financial plan, you are acting in a reactive mode only. Losing sight of the future prevents you from strategically planning one, two or three steps ahead. Master your ability to assess how your decisions today will impact your future plans and execute accordingly.
What would you decide If a client asks you to increase a discount that you know will make you lose all the profit in that contract? Is this client critical for the business? Will they keep buying in the future at better prices? How much of my sales volume does this client represent? Why are they asking for the discount? What would they decide if we refuse? What would the consequences be then?
Sometimes favoring the achievement of a short-term goal is the best decision, however, more often than not, is prioritizing the strategy and future over today’s fleeting success.
5. Talk To People
Before anything else is done, talk to your employees and your clients. Ask them similar questions: What is working for them? What isn’t?
If you have not conducted an employee experience survey this year, or still do not have reliable customer satisfaction data to look at, think of a few focus groups you can conduct with each audience. Put together 5-10 key questions to ask and start a conversation to understand the impact of your actions or inactions so far.
I could not emphasize the power of inclusion more. Employees want to participate, speak up and have their voices heard. They want to belong by co-owning the problem and being part of the solution together with the organization. They love your clients and will do their best to make the company thrive with success if you let them.
Then repeat the same with your clients! They already love your product, your company, the solution you provide. Or, at least they like you better than your competitor. Taking the time to listen to them, and make them part of the solution will definitely increase their loyalty.
6. Course-Correct Your 2020 Plan
You want to end 2020 as strong as possible, without sacrificing the future. Use the feedback from your employees and customers to plan and execute a few highly impactful actions to make it possible for people to redirect their efforts in the last quarter sprint.
How do you get the team motivated for this extra, end-of-the-year effort? If the feedback told you people are tired and stressed out, assign the tasks to a few employees who have more energy and are willing to go the extra mile. How would you recognize and reward them after?
If it is not a question of stress but rather fear of failing, set a few achievable goals to give them clarity and reassurance.
Once you have these new, targeted goals for the last quarter and the people to execute them, focus your attention on the following year.
7. Review Your Long-Term Strategy And Vision
Brush off your pain and stress, and clear your mind to see future opportunities by working with your team on the long-term strategy for your company. How different are you going to run your business in the future? Are there any learnings from this year that you can turn into innovative changes? How do you keep your employees engaged and your clients loyal?
Being present and accepting the facts will help you reset and get unstuck. Nothing that happened can be changed, but you have the power of now. If you can embrace this mindset, nothing could cloud your vision for the future.
It is also time to think about your talented employees. When rethinking your strategy, reflect on the talent you have, and how to retain it. What kind of people will you need for the future and how will you attract them into the organization?
Bring the right team to review the strategy with you and dream big together!
In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield cites Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”
We know that change is inevitable and when it comes, we need to face it. We never expected a change that would affect us globally, in so many aspects of our lives. Our families, schools, hospitals, and universities have been disrupted. Processes delayed, economies put on hold or deeply hurt. Entire systems that used to work are not working anymore. So much uncertainty.
We can only stop and breathe, gather ourselves, and pay attention to our loved ones: family members and team members. Our communities, our clients and our employees. Reset ourselves so we can have a clear mind to think, a healthy body to live and a hopeful heart to lead others into a better and brighter future.