By now most of us have our feet back under the desk and the holidays are rapidly becoming a distant memory. Our skin is a bit browner, and our new year’s resolutions have been stated and subsequently abandoned.

During the break, we might have even thought about changing or improving a few things in the business. But since returning we’ve had emails to deal with and phone calls to make, and those resolutions too, have been lost.

But wait a minute. Let’s rethink that. If it was a good idea at the time, why not reinstate it.

Here’s the thing. Most businesses don’t have a plan. Of those that do, most don’t involve their people in developing the plan, and worse still, just four percent of those business leaders and managers tell their people what the plan is.

If your people don’t understand what you are trying to achieve within your business, then they can’t help you to achieve it. In other words, most of our people go to work each day and do what they think they should do. They guess at what’s important and react accordingly.

The best organisations ensure that they have a clear plan, and that the plan and it’s various components is well communicated to the people who are responsible for helping to achieve it. That way, the guess work is eliminated, and your people understand what they need to do.

I continue to be amazed by the number of businesses that will invest money in equipment, premises and people, and then simply ‘wing it’ as they react to whatever comes up. When I talk to managers about why they don’t have a plan, many of them say that they don’t really know where to start, and as a result, they don’t get around to it.

The best time to get your team engaged in a planning process, or even remotely receptive to any new ideas you may have is at the start of a new year. That’s right now.

You see, they have an appetite for something new. People are refreshed after having a break. They’ve been thinking about things over the break too. They might have even developed a couple of business improvement ideas of their own.

So where do you start? Whilst you can get carried away with offsite planning days with external facilitators and SWOT analyses and the like, you don’t have to create a massive event to get underway.

For starters, keep it simple. Stand by yourself at the whiteboard and ask yourself a couple of questions.

What are we doing really well? Jot down the positives as you see them. Perhaps limit it to five to eight items. Your sales team might be making gains, or your new pricing might be working extremely well. You may have purchased a new machine last year that is really paying its way, or perhaps you made a couple of great recruits who are contributing well.

Next up: What are we doing poorly? You know, the areas where you let yourselves down. Did you lose an important customer? You might be worried about the customer experience, or a new product idea might not be getting the traction you think it needs. Your costs might have crept up or perhaps you didn’t pay down as much debt as you had hoped in the last twelve months.

Try to limit yourself to between five and eight items for each list. If you come up with more than that, prioritise the top eight, and push the others into a ‘holding pen’ to come back to later. Be sure to be specific with your definitions of what’s working well and what’s not.

Next up, take a look at your new lists. Invite key members of your team in – either one by one or as a group – and ask them to review your lists with you as you refine the definitions. Do they agree with your assessment? Chances are that they might be closer to some of the issues than you, and they might be able to elaborate on what is going right, or where you need some fixes.

You’re now ready to focus on the following questions. What do we need to keep doing well in order to maintain the gains we’ve created? And secondly, what do we need to fix and how should we go about it.

You’re now starting to develop a focussed and outcome oriented plan. Look to develop some key initiatives around each of your issues. If you’ve been able to steal some business off the opposition, develop a target list of other clients they hold and make a plan to go after them. Alternatively, if you have had trouble recruiting, make a plan to get out to the recruiters and talk to them about the type of people you need and why good people should join your organisation.

So, you now have a list of issues – positive and negative –and a list of initiatives to help you maintain or improve performance in those areas. Now look at each initiative and ask yourself the following. Who’s job is that? Try to put a name alongside each initiative. Invite that person to a discussion and share with them the issue or opportunity. Tell them you would like them to lead the initiative and get their input on the potential solutions. Agree some key objectives for the next thirty days, and let them go to it.

The next step is really important. Make an effort to share the list of issues or opportunities, the initiatives and the people responsible with the whole team. Tell them what’s important and how they can contribute to improving the performance in each of the areas.

It sounds really simple because it is. You’ve identified the important areas for improvement; you now have a series of initiatives to address those areas; you have someone responsible; and you’ve told the team how they can play a role in the overall success.

Finally, make sure you check in regularly with each ‘responsible person’ and follow up on their thirty day action plan. Thereafter, roll over new initiatives each thirty day period. Keep the whole team updated monthly on progress across each issue. In other words, keep the plan alive.

Now you have a team of people coming to work, who know what the most important priorities are, and how they can contribute to the Company in a meaningful way. I guarantee this simple approach will make your business stronger and make you a better leader.

This article first appeared in the NZ Herald on the 31st January, 2020.