Don’t spend a minute planning for 2016 until you read this

A Happy New Year for Your Organization: How to gain an edge

One of the things people in organizations typically do at the end of the year is quickly move into the next one. They do so with the best of intentions, but without truly taking stock of what transpired during the past year and gaining closure with all that happened – or didn’t. If it was a tough year with disappointing results, there’s a tendency to view the new year under the shadow of the old. If it was a great year, there’s a tendency to bask in the glow without taking a sober look at what’s ahead. And if it was a mix of good and bad, the new year can begin with a tangle of insights not gained and lessons not learned.

The pitfall to avoid is missing a valuable opportunity to engage in an earnest assessment of what went well or not, and why. When it comes to the close of the calendar year (or fiscal year, if that’s a different time frame), there’s no better time to have a conversation for closure. Whatever industry you work in, the year ahead holds much greater possibility if your people aren’t constrained by past events they haven’t been able to put to rest.

This may sound like a simple enough concept – which makes it even more surprising that so many organizations don’t bother with it. And to be clear, this is about the whole of the results, versus individual performance. It’s a group opportunity focused on the organization and what happened at all levels that led to the results delivered. And the reason to focus briefly in a very intentional way on the past is so that people can then move powerfully into the new year, unencumbered.

One of the things my colleagues and I do is help organizations understand how their people relate to the work they’re doing. Too often we find that people are preoccupied by background conversations they’re having in their heads about other, unfinished business – for instance, unclear direction from management, competing priorities, frustration over lack of resources, or a nagging work culture issue. But if they can bring those conversations to the foreground and have them out loud with one another, it actually doesn’t take long for people to feel like they’ve said what there is to say, and to put the past in the past. When people feel “complete” in this way with something, they’re usually more than happy to move on.

I recently worked with a board of directors that had made a major decision about the direction of their company, one that did not go well. They suffered significant losses and the failure had wreaked havoc at the executive level, disabling them as they tried to decide what to do next. I facilitated a half-day session with the board so that they could fundamentally understand and take responsibility for what had happened. What I found in this session is what we find time and again: that once people have the chance to get complete, once there’s nothing left to say about what transpired, all that’s left to discuss is fresh opportunity. In this instance, the board was able develop their next strategy for moving forward – which was informed by what didn’t go well, but not burdened by it.

On the flipside, if you’ve had a huge success, there’s nothing like winning and capitalizing on the win. But it’s very important to get to the source of the win, as opposed to thinking it was just good luck, good people, or a good internal environment. You still have to break it down and understand what made you successful if you are going to move into the next year or phase of work as purposefully and thoughtfully as possible.

No matter the present circumstances – good, bad, or in-between – the key here is to be driven by the opportunities in front of you, not the opportunities behind you. There’s tremendous value to completion and closure, a value that often goes unrealized. But the organizations best-poised for a successful 2016 will be those who aren’t still carrying 2015 on their backs.

If you want to discuss how to get the most out of your planning sessions for 2016, contact Joanne Graf, joanneg@jmw.com.