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How to make 2019 the best yet for your business

It’s that time of year again.  Decorations packed away, children back to school, gym memberships purchased and a quiet sense of relief.  Life returns to normal. There’s something about the transition into a New Year that makes you question where you are and where you’re heading. And if you’re running a business, it’s a good time to take stock and make resolutions that will last the course.  

If you want to go hard into 2019 and change the pace of your business, then you need to get some fundamentals right from the start.  Here are my tips for a truly Happy New Year.

Set quarterly thematic goals

Start 2019 with a 90-day goal. Even better, plan four themes for the whole year.  Commit to getting a few things done well – that’s way better than lots of things done badly.  Thematic goals are very powerful. Decide where your business is now and where you want it to be by 1 April.  Look at what’s achievable and measurable and call it something. Get a totalizer, like you used to see on ‘Blue Peter’.   Make sure it’s updated daily so that people can instantly see what success looks like. If you pitch it with a 70% likelihood of succeeding, it should be a stretch but achievable. Then work out how your company’s going to celebrate. Not just if you exceed it, but if you just miss it too.

When I was MD at Rackspace, we put posters up everywhere.  They said, ‘This is our goal for the quarter, these are our objectives and this is the number we’re going to track’.  The numbers rose daily. Every team member knew how they could contribute to it – they all felt that ownership. At IT Lab, we set goals around sales opportunity targets but created them for everyone.  Even if you didn’t work in the sales team, you knew you needed to help with sales to bring us one step closer to our goal.

Break your 90-day goal down so everyone knows clearly what they’re doing. And tell them why it’s so important to the company.  

Take a long, hard look at your staff

Great companies are built by great people.  There’s no getting away from that. The talent of your team is the thing that’s going to make the biggest difference to your company’s performance. The best-selling author, Jim Collins, says you should ask yourself two questions. ‘If that person resigned now, would I be unhappy?’ And then, ‘Knowing what I know about them now, would I re-hire them?’  If the answer’s no to both questions, then you need to face up to the hard truth. It’s time for a change. Is your thinking driven by their behaviour or performance? If values are a company fit but performance is low then is there another role in the firm? Could you significantly narrow the scope of their responsibilities?

If you want talented people – the ‘A Players’ – to thrive in your company, they need to be surrounded by other A Players. Get this right, and they’ll be engaged and give you up to 40% of their discretionary effort. That’s an amazingly powerful thing.  Get it wrong, and you’ll lose your A Players and your business will be mired in mediocrity.

The reaction I get from my clients when we discuss this often staggers me.  When I ask them to identify their weak performers, there’s often a nervous laugh. I can see them thinking that this applies to many people in the organisation. I tell them to start with their Executive team – the people that directly report into them.  I ask them to write a list and go through them, one by one. If someone stands out as a poor performer, even if they’ve been working for you for ages, set yourself a target to replace them by Easter. If you don’t, any new recruits that you bring in aren’t going to have enough time to impact on 2019 results.  

Take immediate action. You have to get this right as the rest of your organisation will judge you on it.  Everyone will know if there’s a problem at senior level. It may be difficult to confront, but if you don’t fix it, 2019 will not be a better year.

Tell people how it is

It’s natural to be fearful of confrontation.  But you need to encourage a culture where it’s possible to have those tricky conversations in a constructive way.  This comes from the top. Kim Scott calls it ‘Radical Candour’ and she devotes a whole book to the subject.

Imagine you’re standing in the queue at Starbucks.  Who is it from your organisation who you don’t want to bump into? The person who makes your heart sink when you see them?  Well, that’s telling you something. You need to talk to them now. It’s hard to confront poor performance but it’s vital to your future success.

High performing teams engage conflict but it’s not personal. What they have is radical candour – direct feedback but given from the perspective of caring about the individual.  If you’re wondering why certain companies power ahead, leaving others for dust, it’s largely because of this. There’s just no substitute for open, honest, no-holds-barred communication.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Maybe your first 90-day goal of 2019 should be around communication.  Start a new communication rhythm for your company, beginning with you, the CEO. Commit to a weekly communication that goes to all staff between Friday night and Sunday night. Update everyone on progress that’s been made that week.  

Decide on the behaviours you want to see in your staff this year, pinpoint when people have displayed these qualities and point them out to other staff. Call out your heroes of 2019. Give them recognition and publicly thank them.  It doesn’t have to be long or laborious, but it’ll make such a difference to motivation. If you communicate and praise, your team will give back 10-fold.

The thing that drives engagement, more than anything, is having absolute clarity around what ‘good’ looks like.  All staff must know what their part of the company’s 90-day goal is. There must also be clarity of outcome. If you haven’t already, introduce ‘daily huddles’ (I’ve talked about these in previous blogs).  They make a huge difference to day-to-day success. Give staff the chance to talk about what they’ve done today and what they’ll do tomorrow to hit that quarterly goal. Encourage discussion about where they’re stuck and where they might need help.  

When I meet staff in client organisations, a common complaint is lack of communication and praise.  If you have a nagging feeling this might apply to your company, do something about it!

Clear out your office space

Don’t wait until spring to clear out your office environment.  Now’s the perfect time. A cluttered, messy workplace equals a complete lack of pride.  Get staff involved in this. Talk to them about what the whole team can do to make a difference.

As MD of Rackspace and Peer 1, I’ve asked staff to volunteer to come in at weekends to help de-clutter.  If they agree to this, make a big deal out of it. Give them public recognition and reward them by buying lunch or drinks. Others will want join in.  Involve all staff in coming up with ideas to improve their workspace. What are the fixes you can do quickly to make a difference? You’ll be amazed how much this boosts mood, productivity and atmosphere.

The New Year is a great time to decide to do things differently. Go hard now and you’ll set the pace for the rest of 2019.  Any gains you make in January and February will have a lasting affect on the rest of the year. So use this opportunity to set some goals, drive some change and re-set working patterns.  Happy New Year!

Written by business growth coach Dom Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here.

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