Presents and Resolutions
The end of one year and the beginning of another is always a time for reflection, and this year, I’d like to speak to two topics that are always tied to year-end activities: presents and resolutions.
It’s a common philosophy in education that fairness isn’t about everyone getting the same thing, but about everyone getting what they need to succeed. This is an approach that applies to good gift giving. My in-laws have four granddaughters and while they strive to make sure that each child receives gifts of the same value, the toys that my seven-year-old daughter craves might bore her twelve-year-old and five-year-old cousins, so, of course, everything is uniquely tailored.
This is a great approach to take when dealing with our team members: equal attention, but individualized treatment. In the same way that I try to ensure that my holiday gifts for friends and family are balanced but also appropriate, when I consider the needs of my direct reports, I do so on a case-by-case basis. Attending a seminar on more robust leadership may be a great “gift” for a newer manager, but meaningless for one who already has a decade of experience under his belt. For a team leader in a rigid, highly-regulated segment of business (as some of my direct reports are), professional development centered around improving your environment will only lead to frustration, while it would be welcome by those with more latitude to influence process.
In addition to major “gift giving” (such as professional development, reviews, and other major milestones), look for “stocking stuffers.” On Christmas morning, my daughter always runs downstairs, looking forward to finding what’s under the Christmas tree, but before she gets there, we stop and crack open the stuff in the stockings. Although usually small, these are unexpected surprises. Similarly, we can look to go above and beyond with our team members to keep them enthusiastic and engaged.
For example, at my organization, we have a reward system where we can give employees “points” that can be accumulated for gift cards. I ended the year by giving each of my direct reports a healthy amount along with a heartfelt thank you for their accomplishments throughout the year. Whenever I get back from a vacation or other absence, I also like to reward them as a thank you for keeping things on track. As an organization, we’re also working to implement “pop-up events,” where leadership brings in ice cream or cookies or relevant goodies for secondary holidays like Pumpkin Day… just because.
During the holiday season, we spend a lot of time picking out presents for our friends and loved ones. Holiday gift giving only happens once annually, butour team members deserve this level of attention throughout the year.
We all know New Year’s Resolutions fail, but we all still make them. Heck, every year, I make some variation of the same resolutions: lose some weight, write more, de-clutter my life. Some years I have more success than others, but there’s not a year on the books yet where I hit it out of the park.
Getting to the heart of why resolutions fail can help us, both in business and in life.
First, resolutions are grand gestures. Contrary to what the last ten minutes of every romantic comedy would have us believe, grand gestures don’t usually work. They often have a foundation in desperation—which is a terrible basis for any serious plan—or in doing something we think we should do, not something we want to do. After all, if the change the resolution supports is so important, why wait until January 1st?
Second, resolutions are inflexible. If you’re going to make a proclamation at the beginning of the year, it feels like defeat to move the finish line to make it easier and more achievable. Ironically, that’s exactly the path to success, even though it feels like it isn’t.
Finally, resolutions focus on the end result, not on the way to achieve it. Indeed, analyses have shown that the most successful resolutions are those that lay out a reasonable (and flexible) plan to achieve the goal rather than simply making some grand proclamation.
All of this can help us in decision-making in the office. Sure, there are times that it seems like a bold statement is the way to go, but without a plan to back it up, it means nothing more than my empty promise to lose twenty more pounds this year. And we can’t be afraid to change our goals when reality sets in. It’s perfectly fine to make a resolution to read a book a week, but when you’re only half-way through one book at the end of January, that’s not failure: that’s a half a book that you might not have read otherwise. Celebrate it.
Be SMART and flexible. When making resolutions, as with setting goals of any kind, consider the SMART methodology. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound seems a lot better than “dramatic and extreme.”
Leave the grand gestures to the stars of rom-coms. Don’t make resolutions. Make plans.
I hope you had a great holiday season and a fantastic start to the new year. Once you’ve recovered from good times with family and friends (and cleared through all that e-mail), take some time to make plans for the next twelve months. And make sure that plan includes taking care of yourself and your team.