How to Keep Your Business Out of the Weeds
The month of January has come and gone, and for many people and organizations this is when the rubber of our resolutions start hitting the road of reality. Organizations that operate on calendar years are one month into their execution plans and facing the daunting task of keeping up momentum and focus. And organizations that operate on mid-year fiscal calendars are likely just starting to kick off their months-long journey of strategic planning and alignment.
No matter which model your company follows, February is always an interesting time of the year. December and January are natural book-end times for annual reflection and goal-setting. But by the time February roars in, you may find glimmers of self-doubt creeping in and distracting you from the path that seemed perfectly straight and achievable just a short time ago.
This reminds me of my early days waiting tables. Most good waiters operate in an ideal flow state, and I’d start every busy dinner shift with lofty ambitions of staying in that zone. But oftentimes, something unexpected would arise that would distract me and throw me off-course. I’d get flustered, lose focus, and inevitably, that's when I would end up breaking the cork of a very expensive wine bottle, or slipping on a wet kitchen floor and losing a customer's entire dinner order.
That's what the serving industry called "being in the weeds." And the waiters living through it can always be spotted a mile away. Their hair is disheveled, their shirts are wrinkled and stained, and their eyes don't really meet yours when they're talking.
So how do you avoid getting into the weeds? How do we avoid that inevitable February slump where our resolve starts cracking, and the way forward seems less clear?
1. Remember the Big Picture
We get in the weeds when we forget the Big Picture – that cliff-top 360-degree viewpoint of what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. We're so focused on getting our product out to customers, or reaching our next revenue target, or managing the next major marketing campaign that we oftentimes forget the original “why" behind our goals. Are we just trying to sell a bunch of product, or are we really part of a bigger picture somewhere? Take a few moments to remember the reason behind what you’re doing. Post it up somewhere visible where you can continue to refer to it in the months ahead.
2. Embrace the incremental
Every business sets quarterly targets, and then we release our best people into the wild to make the magic happen. But what if our goals are less visible than a dollar sign, or number of new subscribers? If your goals include less visible targets, like being a better leader, or redesigning your organization – it can easily feel overwhelming as you move from planning to execution. Take a few moments and ensure you have clear mile posts staked out for regularly assessing progress throughout the year, rather than leaving it for a final year-end review.
3. Schedule your check-ups
We regularly schedule dentist appointments and annual exams months in advance. Bring that same discipline to your work by taking the time now to schedule recurring health checks for every 3 months of the year. These can be held alone, with a mentor, or with your wider team. Keep the agenda loose and allow time to look both retrospectively at where you are versus where you expected to be, and then look forward for what you want to start/stop/continue doing from this point forward. And remember those mile posts you outlined in #2 above? Be sure your health check includes a moment to appreciate the incremental steps you’re taking as you march intentionally towards your ultimate goal.
4. Have great conversations
Conversations are magical - they can reset your entire mindset within the span of a 45-minute coffee break. It's the natural ebb-and-flow of giving and taking, sharing thoughts and attracting outside perspectives. When all else fails and you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to move your goals forward, get out of your own bubble and seek a different perspective. Reach out to someone doing amazing work – even if it’s unrelated to your own - and offer to buy them a drink. Absorb yourself in their world for a few minutes. Get out of your own head and try to learn from someone else’s experience. And when you leave that lunch/coffee/happy hour conversation feeling buzzed with new energy? Write it down. Get it on any piece of paper, post-it note or dinner napkin possible. Tape it to your desk, your dashboard or your bathroom mirror. Don't just go back to the status quo.
These are just a few ways to ward off the onset of doubt that oftentimes comes after all the annual planning is finalized. Whether that period comes to your organization in February or later in the year, take a moment to step back, acknowledge the year-long journey you’re on, and remember that each incremental step along the way brings your goal a tiny bit closer.