Spring Cleaning Your Work

I think I share the sentiment of many when I say I am happy that spring is here – but I say that not just for weather-related reasons. The beginning of the year can be a whirlwind, between getting back into the swing of things after holidays and trying to get things in order for the year. It’s easy to get so focused on execution that you lose sight of longer-term strategy and goals. Now is as good a time as any to take stock – to do a little “spring cleaning.”

Spring cleaning is about decluttering and reorganizing, and though it’s typically applied to closets or yards, it can be easily applied to our work lives as well. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Reevaluate your goals for the year – It’s important before making any actual changes that you think about what you wanted to achieve this year, whether organizationally or personally. Then, identify what steps you need to take to be able to achieve those goals. I relook at the plans I set and think about what is working and what is not.  Three months isn’t long enough for new ideas to really show results, but there are mile markers you can check for progress. Are we are moving forward or does it seem there is no progress? If so, then maybe the approach needs to be re-evaluated.  Now is the time to do it and change if necessary.
  2. Prioritize your activities – It’s a surprise to no one that our time is very limited and we’re easily overstretched. Not everything can be a top priority all the time. You have to look critically at all the activities you are currently working on. Ask yourself, which are helping you to achieve your goals and which are not? Which are necessary and which aren’t? Which drive you forward and which slow you down?
  3. Cut the clutter – Whether it’s a weekly meeting or a side project, we have all collected some clutter by this point of the year. Clutter isn’t inherently bad, and that’s what makes it so hard for us to identify and remove. But while not necessarily bad, clutter is distracting; it can get in the way of achieving what’s important. So even if it’s a group your colleague asked you to join, if it’s taking time away from the tasks you should be focused on, then you have to cut back. As rules of thumb: If it’s something you can’t contribute to meaningfully or can’t explain fully, then it’s clutter. If it’s something where you spend the whole time on your phone or laptop checking email and responding to other things, then it’s clutter.
  4. Recommit to your goals – Now that you’re free of the clutter, it’s time to get refocused on your goals. Make sure you have established a clear plan and instituted the necessary activities for achieving your goals. Then commit to staying focused, keeping organized (e.g. don’t let the clutter take over again) and on task, and frequently checking in on your progress.

At the end of each year, we get excited about the prospect of a new year and what it can bring. We set goals for ourselves and our organizations, but then the new year comes and we can lose track of those things in the day to day. But soon those days become months and we can find ourselves derailed from our original paths. Spring provides us an excellent opportunity to get back on track. As a time of renewal, it reminds us to renew our focus. Sometimes that takes a little (or even a lot) of spring cleaning, but once we’ve decluttered our work lives, we can achieve great things.

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Follow up on Eight Lessons from Leaders Part 2

Last week I began my deeper dive into the eight lessons from leaders that Michael Keegan outlined in his post Leading Across Boundaries. This week, I will finish with the last four lessons.

  1. Define and focus on your goals and objectives – Goals aren’t just the destination, but the compass that guides us. Goals keep us on track, working together congruently.  They provide us something to measure our progress against; are we going in circles, are losing ground? Without goals, it’s impossible to tell. The more complexity you add to an environment, the more important clearly outlined objectives become. They don’t have to be lofty or intricate, they don’t even have to be long term, but they need to be there.

Assess yourself: Do you know your end goal? Do your employees? Do your strategies and tactics support it? Do you minimize the time you spend on efforts that don’t? Do you know where you are on the path to achieving your goals? If yes, keep working.

  1. Articulate a strategy for moving forward – Once you know your goals, you’ll need a path to get there. Consider what initiatives you’ll need to implement, what changes you’ll need to make, how you will position yourself, and what milestones should be reached along the way. However, developing the strategy is only the first step, you’ll need to share it with your team and get them onboard to help execute.

Assess yourself: Do you know your goals, but aren’t sure how to achieve them? Does it seem like your employees are working towards a different objective? Do you find yourself making more last minute decisions than deliberate ones? If so, it may be time to revisit or outline a clear strategy.

  1. Engage employees and put customers first – Putting customers first is about recognizing the role of engagement in customer satisfaction. “Engaged, highly satisfied employees increase levels of customer satisfaction and drive bottom line profitability,” wrote Jane Flaherty in her blog post Engaged Employees Create Happy Customers. As leaders, we need engage our employees and all our stakeholders in how to provide the best service to clients. If in the end what we’re doing doesn’t contribute to a happier customer, we need to ask ourselves, why are we doing it?

Assess yourself:  Do you actively provide your employees opportunity for leadership and development? Do your employees have a voice in decision making? Are employee incentives aligned to customer satisfaction? Do your business decisions result in better client service? If yes, enjoy the results!

  1. Seize the moment – Though not always easy to find, there is an opportunity in every situation – perhaps an opportunity to learn or grow or even transform into something better. Don’t let the moment pass without making the most of it.

Assess yourself: Do you wait for perfect? Are you more concerned with risk than opportunity? Do you spend more time with analysis than action? If so, it’s time to let go of perfect, stop waiting, and make something out of now.