Making Resolutions: Passion or Procrastination?

As 2012 comes to a close, we brace ourselves for the media highlight reels and the perfunctory New Year’s Resolutions. So often when I talk to people about resolutions, I see rolling eyeballs and shaking heads.  At least one of the reasons that resolutions are abandoned so quickly is that people don’t know how to make them. The same can be said for business executives and how they set annual goals.

Have–Do–Be or Be–Do–Have? The first question to ask when setting a goal is, “Is this goal about having something or doing something?” The New Year’s crowd will often say they want weight loss or more money. Businesses will report they want more revenue, more customers, and better quality. The problem is that these goals do not identify any action. My experience is that the New Age axiom of “Be-Do-Have” is the progression that leads to personal and organizational transformation.  Statements like “I will be fit” or “I will be more visible in the market” or “I will be more competitive” provide clarity and open possibilities for innovative action.

Is it your passion? Passionless goals and resolutions dissolve quickly. Ask yourself what are the aspects about your vocation and your life that REALLY get you excited. On the personal side, it might be travel, quality time with the family, access to education, or creative expression. For a business it might be surprising a customer by exceeding their expectations, innovation breakthroughs, or growing a more participatory culture. Successful executives are mindful of both personal and organizational passions and are certain to feature them in vision statements.

Is it specific and obtainable? It’s fine to “think big” and challenge an organization. But if you leave it up to the organization to find the way forward, you won’t find the cooperation to get the job done. I suggest taking a lofty goal and break it up into identifiable milestones. Above all, be certain who are responsible, what will be done, and when will it be complete.

What’s in the way? I’ve observed that the “secret sauce” for goal success is how obstacles are handled. There is enormous value in clarifying obstacles as long as it is handled with the understanding it cannot impact the commitment to the goal. In toxic cultures, discussing obstacles can be interpreted as weakness, complaining, or even bring into question one’s competence. In a healthy organization, managers identify discussions about obstacles as an opportunity to coax the organization to try something it’s never tried before. As an aside, guiding the transformation of a culture to tackle this issue is one of my passions. 

How to Foster Innovation ?

In a sluggish economy with industries achieving uneven growth, many organizations are scrambling to discover strategies that will beat the competition. Although innovation can be elusive, managers can create an environment that is more conducive to innovation. As we prepare for the 2013 planning cycle, here are some suggestions.

It is a myth that innovative ideas come out of unconstrained, “out-of-the-box” brainstorming.  Most of these processes yield a myriad of ideas that are not relevant to the organization’s business model.  Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” The challenge for managers is to focus the possibility space to the business model and add a diversity of perspectives, or what Jobs called dots. Start with a factual analysis that describes the company and the problems that your market is worried about. Activities could include:

  • Interview key customers with open questions that draw out perceived possibilities and concerns. Get a picture of the role customers would like to see your company play.
  • If your company keeps a scorecard or performance metrics, collect current and historical data for review. Refrain from any interpretation of why the numbers are what they are.
  • Perform secondary research on industry performance and collect short and long-term perspectives from thought leaders in your industry.

The next step is to select the team that will brainstorm ideas to be investigated. The only qualification for a team member is that they are engaged in the success of the company. Give your team time to study the data above and set necessary boundaries for the exercise. Possibilities for the brainstorming include:

  • Construct brainstorming venues that include both large groups and small, diverse teams.
  • Encourage audacity. Stimulate thinking by asking how to achieve highly-aggressive growth goals where the only constraint is technical feasibility. Then ask the team to work within the boundaries.
  • Bring in outsiders. A trap for managers is a belief that a team member needs a decade of industry experience to make meaningful contributions. In Jobs’ words, industry experts have fewer “dots.”
  • Show sincere gratitude and detailed feedback on every idea offered! Participants need to feel listened to in order to remain engaged.