What’s On Your New Year’s List?

Run a half marathon
Learn a foreign language
Spend more time with friends… 

How about taking your organization to a whole new level?

It’s that time of year again…the time when many of us take a little closer look at our lives and make a list of things we want to change…goals we want to achieve…in the coming year. Actually, 41% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, and another 17% sometimes/infrequently make them…and those who explicitly set goals are ten times more likely to achieve those goals than people who don’t make their goals explicit.

So go ahead and make a list of things you want to accomplish this year…and while you’re at it, why not include taking your organization to a whole new level of performance. After all, if making that goal explicit can increase your chance of success by ten-fold, what have you got to lose?

Of course, the real question is what do you do next, because setting an explicit goal is just the first step. It’s a long way from there to success…as witness the fact that 42% of people who make New Year’s resolutions say that they never succeed. So my suggestion for dramatically improving your organization’s performance is that you focus on increasing its level of employee engagement, because engagement has been proven to improve performance on a whole range of key metrics.

And then I’d suggest that you start by making people unhappy!

Now generally, I don’t advise making the people in your organization unhappy. But whether it’s running a marathon, learning a new language, blowing the doors off your revenue target, or anything else that’s easier said than done…we all know that achieving a challenging goal takes persistence. It takes the kind of tough mindedness that just won’t let you quit. And for many of us, that mental toughness is most likely to come from a deep dissatisfaction with the way things are…dissatisfaction with knowing how good we could be if we could just make the right changes…dissatisfaction that’s so deeply felt that we’ll keep banging away even when success seems almost impossible. Most winning athletes and coaches will tell you that they are motivated more by the dissatisfaction of losing than anything else!

So pick out one or two areas where your organization just isn’t cutting it. And don’t just rely on your own perspective. Ask your managers, your employees, your partners. Ask your customers. Maybe you’re taking too long to respond to customer questions or complaints. Or maybe you’re product quality isn’t what it should be. Or maybe you’re losing too many good people because you’re not providing enough opportunities for professional development. Find those areas of dissatisfaction and make them yours.

Once you’ve identified a few areas where your organizational performance isn’t what it should be, or what it could be, make sure everybody knows why this is important. Connect the dots. Explain how fixing this problem would help us do this and this and this more effectively, which would help us produce these results, which would benefit all of us in these specific ways.

Use examples. Tell stories. Ask for suggestions about how to fix the problem. Then come back with an explicit goal and a clear plan for how to achieve it. As the year goes on, keep coming back to the organization to ask for feedback, report on results to date, and remind everyone of why this goal is worth achieving.

I’m not suggesting that you focus only on where your organization needs to improve. Of course you need to recognize and celebrate what your people do well. But if you can also focus on those few areas where improvement is possible, you’ll be much more likely to get to that next level of excellence.

So go for it. Identify those areas of dissatisfaction. Use them to mobilize and motivate your organization. And remember…when it comes to driving positive change, dissatisfaction is your friend!



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