While it might seem as simple as a flip of a calendar page or additional arithmetic when dating a document, starting a new year brings with it additional opportunities for organizational leaders.
In our personal lives many of us approach this time of year as a time to refresh, a time to reflect on the past year, on our actions, decisions, and relationships. If we’re really thinking ahead, ideally, we have some goals from the past year to gauge our progress against and adjust for the new year. The ephemeral nature of personal growth rests at the tip of our imagination and in these moments feel more attainable than ever.
Imagine how leaders can channel this innate restorative energy of the new year into growth efforts around change, innovation, and better connection across our organizations.
As we approach this, we ask you grant us a bit of humility. We have all experienced moments of desiring change. Still, surveys have found that 80% of new year resolutions are abandoned by February. Does that mean that setting goals is useless? No. A recent Fidelity study found that “eighty-one percent of respondents who made resolutions say they will be better off financially in 2022, compared to 58% of those who didn’t make resolutions.” Similarly, leaders set goals and build strategies all the time to coordinate resources and actions in a manner that leads to organizational benefits, and ideally growth. In these parallel pursuits, starting with reflection is key.
Reflection shows up across the journey of personal growth. Whether pursuing personal or organizational goals, may the following provide guidance on developing your own practice of reflection.
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis
In first setting our goals and resolutions, we reflect on the past year to understand and pinpoint the most important shifts that will lead to desired outcomes. There are several disciplines for goal formation and strategic planning, all requiring some element of inquisition of either the internal company (its financial picture, strengths, culture, history, etc.) or external environment (peers, competitors, market shifts, socio-political factors, etc.) and their impact - ideally both. This could lead to tens or hundreds of factors being identified as contributing to what we are observing in the business. The Fidelity study found that those who experienced success were able to focus on factors within their locus of control. Our intention here should be then to prioritize the most important and feasible things we can change. What existing habits and behaviors can we build upon? What can we change about our environments to remove barriers and enable our desired outcomes? This SWOT analysis should go beyond just identifying what to change, but also provide a sense of why this change is critical. One Forbes contributor attributes identifying this deep commitment to being the key difference in overcoming limiting mindsets that hold us back. Furthermore, researchers who study change efforts in business highlight the criticality of having a “burning platform” or a clear articulation of why what we are currently doing won’t get us to where we want to go. This is especially important if the change requires garnering buy-in and overcoming natural preferences for precedent and hesitancy we have to the ambiguity change creates. Equipped with a deep sense of why change is essential and strong hypotheses of what changes we can make; we can start the journey of pursuing our goals with intention.
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” Henry David Thoreau
In striving for these goals, we reflect along the way on our progress, experimenting with different approaches and levers of change as we learn what works. Organizational behavior scholars have theorized on how pivotal learning is to advance our goals. Schon popularized the idea of Reflection in Action, which involves reflecting on the situation while changes can still be made to affect the outcome. This is especially critical in facing the uncertainty that comes from enacting our will onto the existing reality while pursuing our goals. Some would argue that this occurs naturally, but our attention is pulled by many demands, so this must also be done intentionally. We must not only set goals that are measurable, but actively measure our progress against these goals and create space for reflecting on this progress to guide future action. While colloquially we understand innovation to be done by visionary leaders who have a vision, innovation comes from constant trial and error until we learn what works. Netflix was once a mail-order service before it became an innovative streaming service. We understand it now to be the company that fundamentally disrupted how we consume content. Amazon was an online bookstore before becoming the retail alternative behemoth that we know it as today. As we actively build our ability to practice reflection, we get smarter in building upon what works, which increases our chance of attaining our desired outcomes and best case scenario outcomes that reach heights not imagined as possible.
"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships." – Michael Jordan
The journey of growth doesn't stop once a goal is reached, rather innovation and change require a continuous process of reflection to identify what works, and more importantly, socializing this across our communities and organizations. Employees from the top of the organizational hierarchy to the frontline must be part of the learning experience. There is valuable knowledge that senior leaders have by observing patterns, best practices, and allocation of resources across the organization that the front line can’t see. Similarly, there’s valuable insight that frontline employees access such as real-time customer interactions, the utility of tools and structures, and the informal organizational understanding that drives team dynamics and employee behavior. Reducing power dynamics involves moving away from seeing the manager as a sole expert to being a facilitator of their employees’ shared insights. The model where an expert at the front of the room spouts knowledge for mass receivers is outdated when we acknowledge that insights with the potential to improve business outcomes can be found at all levels of the organization. This moves us to a more robust model where knowledge is understood to be socially constructed, culturally embedded, and contextually dependent. Practically, in reflecting on what works and sharing this knowledge across our community, we begin to socialize reliable practices to inform future action.
A practice of reflection that leads to measurable outcomes and benefits is not an easy task, in fact it is a discipline that we as leaders need to strengthen. It involves pattern recognition to distill insightful observation from the vast happenings around us, systems thinking to accurately make connections and develop smart implications, and emotional intelligence to remain in sync with organizational learning and discussion happening in real time across your organization.
Curious about activating this practice of reflection within your organization? Partner with our Axxum Consultants to support setting motivating goals for the future, develop smarter strategies, and improve organizational learning.