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What Companies Should Leave Behind in 2021
You probably already take advantage of the New Year to make resolutions and start new habits. But did you consider that companies can — and should — do the same? Many use this time to set new goals and a new plan of action for the new year. But not nearly enough will consider what things they have been doing that they should leave behind in 2021.
Waving goodbye. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
By Larry Spring
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6 minute read

You probably already take advantage of the New Year to make resolutions and start new habits. But did you consider that companies can — and should — do the same? Many use this time to set new goals and a new plan of action for the new year. But not nearly enough will consider what things they have been doing that they should leave behind in 2021.

Take into account what your company should leave behind

Taking the time to chart a fresh course and assess your progress is an important part of annual and multi-year planning. As leaders, we are programmed to think about what to add, where to go next, and how to keep things moving forward. Most leaders don’t spend nearly enough time studying which programs need to be reduced or even eliminated. If you only add new initiatives to your organization, you risk overloading your employees with the bloat of ineffective and outdated activities.

And informally removing these initiatives isn’t enough. Even if you don’t include these older initiatives in a revised plan, that they haven’t been formally retired significantly increases the risk that staff will continue to see them as part of the organization demanding some of their energy. The impact of this can be an overwhelming sense of paralysis by staff if this goes on for very long.

Why it’s worth addressing

There are lots of reasons we don’t like to address the termination of initiatives and programs directly. It can seem like admitting defeat, or perhaps the program is a favorite of a powerful executive, or worse, it can feel like approving the program was a mistake, and terminating it might undermine the credibility of decision-makers.

Program abandonment only represents these things if leaders assign these meanings to it. It is far more likely that program abandonment shows leadership that is objective, guileless, focused, and without ego.

The abandonment of a program is only seen as a defeat if leaders set the decision up as such. Deciding to start, keep or terminate a program can only be about the best decision based on the information we have right now and our best understanding of our current context. When context or information changes, new decisions may need to be made. Making a new decision is not a defeat, even if the program was not as successful as hoped.

The politics of ending a program or initiative

The politics of terminating a program can be one of the most difficult things to navigate. One strategy is to depersonalize the issue. Try to keep criteria for keeping or terminating programs objective and keep names dissociated from the program. The goal is to have the evidence for termination make the case for itself while also making the need for a defensive reaction from that executive less likely.

If you were the approver, or champion of the program, a decision to terminate could feel like admitting to a big mistake. An alternative way to view this is a demonstration of your ability to set ego aside and make the best decisions given the information available. The ability to admit and own our mistakes creates some vulnerability that is critical in developing trust.

Setting new goals

Now that you have decided to jettison some of your less helpful programs, you have room for some new initiatives to help your organization reach new heights. Before you tout these new goals, take some time to consider how to set them up for success.

First, ensure that each new goal you’re setting is coherent with the goals that are already in place. Be careful of setting priorities that will compete for resources with these existing programs. Nothing is more frustrating for people than being tasked with making great things happen, but not being given the resources to make it happen. Besides resources, you will want to ensure that these new initiatives will not detract from or counteract existing work.

Second, be sure to make these new goals SMART goals. There is nothing new, flashy, or fancy about this. But it always amazes me how often organizational goals miss this mark. SMART is that age-old acronym (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) to help you ensure success with your goal-setting process.

Goals should be specific enough that everyone who reads them takes away the same meaning. Often, this means taking a little time to define commonly used terms that mean different things to different people. Do you want to improve employee engagement or motivation? What exactly do these words mean?

Being specific will help you decide how to measure your goal. You can never achieve your goals if you can’t measure your progress towards them. All goals should be concrete and measurable. This does not mean that you must have a measurement tool that is 100% valid. You can have proxy measures that are a decent representation of what you are trying to measure.

Goals also need to feel attainable if they are to serve as motivators. A good goal will stretch people to achieve beyond their current capability, but will be close enough that they can believe it is within their reach. Belief is the key to effort in this dimension.

Relevant goals are those that are worthwhile, meaningful, timely, strategic, and cohesive with other strategies or goals that are in place. Staff will not work hard for a goal that they feel will stall progress or does not have any real significance to themselves or the organization. No one will invest their energy in meaningless work. But, when people can feel the importance of the initiative and their contribution to it, the energy will flow out of them.

Last, it is important to put parameters of time on your goals. Choosing a timeframe can lend urgency and provide some structure to the planning and implementation.

Take advantage of the end of the year by cleaning out old programs, initiatives and goals. Get rid of some of the moribund activities that keep people from excelling and create a new set of goals that will excite, empower and energize your people.

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