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Realistic resolutions help rev up 2013

The beginning of the year is a typical time for company officials to revisit business development. What are the revenue goals, and how will they be achieved? There will be full-day retreats and long lists of resolutions, such as pursuing more private work, networking more, recommitting to pitch in on business development, and building key strategic relationships.

How many of those resolutions will come true? Not as many as we would like. But strategic plans will be more successful if human behavior is kept in mind.

Resolutions are fun to make, but not much fun to keep. That’s because we get a lot of satisfaction from the act of making a resolution. It feels like we’ve made a step in the right direction. “I’m going to do yoga three times a week.” “I’m not going to work weekends.” “I’m going to lose 15 pounds.” And making such declarations doesn’t cost anything.

Our culture is so fixated on immediate gratification that it’s tough to settle for the delayed gratification that comes from the hard work of sticking to a resolution. Setting achievable goals is the first priority.

I facilitated a strategic session where the annual revenue goal was 40 percent over the previous year – in the middle of the recession. When that goal is reduced to a monthly basis, it’s not achievable. People get discouraged and slip into old habits. Make annual goals realistic and monthly goals become even more realistic.

Success begets success. We are more likely to stick to a diet if we lose the initial weight quickly. The trick is setting goals that are easy to accomplish in the first month. People are busy, and while it might feel good to decide to meet with eight clients in the next month, it won’t feel good to not do so.

Start slow, so momentum can be built. Put down tasks that are small and measurable and may already be on the calendar. The check-in after the first month should be a cause for celebration, not a letdown.

Don’t aim for 100 percent. Measure any progress made, not whether a goal is hit. It’s motivating to count success and de-motivating to consider what wasn’t accomplished as a failure. I have been in too many meetings, a month after a strategic plan was set, when staffers looked down at the floor because they didn’t do what they said they were going to.

Managers should not take punitive approaches. Acknowledge that people are busy, change is hard, and they should do what they can. If the initial goals for the first couple of months are small enough, there will be more to celebrate.

Let people set their own goals. Group planning sessions where officials divide and conquer are practical for organization, but not effective for administration. People need to have ownership over what they are going to do. Group settings tend to drain individual ownership.

I have found that letting people create their own path and timeline is more effective than mandating a prescriptive course. Once the direction is clear, give people room to determine how they are going to accomplish it.

We all need help. Large group planning sessions also mask challenges that individuals may have and don’t want to admit in a group setting. Smaller group or one-on-one coaching can help bring out issues that can then be worked through.

I’ve found that more individual attention is the key to people becoming active in business development. People are more accountable if they learn how to manage their time more effectively so they can accomplish their goals.

Most of the time, people suffer from the resolution syndrome of setting unrealistic goals. Weekly or bimonthly coaching sessions that are more individual retain the accountability, but are more productive than large group check-ins. Staffers who are not altogether comfortable marketing are much more likely to stick with a program if they learn what works for them personally.

Schedule it. The best way to make plans work is to pick achievable goals and schedule the time to do it. “By next Monday, I’ll set up a meeting with Tom at XYZ Architects to debrief on our last project and see if there are opportunities we can team on in the future.” Note that this action step is only to set up a meeting, because one can’t control when it might happen.

I’ve found that if my weekly to-do list is in front of me every day, I don’t forget it. I also schedule myself for tasks in Outlook so I know that on Tuesday at 10 a.m., I’m going to check back with someone who said, “Talk to me in six months.”

Regroup. Strategic sessions typically generate four- to five-page summaries that people don’t remember. Pick only two or three, make them fit on a page, and then check back with the group every quarter on how it’s going.

Plans are great, but they often need refinement. What’s working? What is being learned? What are some suggestions for improving the plan? Don’t feel obligated to stick with a plan that’s not panning out. It’s a great way to keep people engaged in the process rather than feeling good about making the resolution at the beginning of the year.

More success will come from making goals reasonable, celebrating every success, helping people design their own path, blocking out time to do it, and checking in with the team periodically.

Leo MacLeod is a new business coach and a strategic consultant. Contact him at leo@mainspringmarketing.com.

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