After many years of doing this work, I have come to the conclusion that the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is just an odd time period. Some organizations go into massive planning mode hoping that they can catch up and get prepared for the new year. Others just coast between the holidays, hoping that every one will show up at work and that all of the shifts will be filled. Whether you and your organization go hyper-vigilant or become hyper-mellow, the key as a leader is to make sure you are well prepared for the new year. Therefore, I recommend three specific actions to happen during this unique time period.
First, take all of your direct reports out for lunch or coffee. Do your regular coaching work but also do some more in-depth visiting. Focus on learning as much as you can about this person even if you know them well. As Marcus Buckingham noted in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005, “To excel as a manager you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and that your chief responsibility is not to eradicate this uniqueness, but rather to arrange roles, responsibilities, and expectations so that you can capitalize upon it. The more you perfect this skill, the more effectively you will turn talents into performance.” More in-depth coaching and visiting time between the Thanksgiving and Christmas can help.
Second, get out from behind the desk, and visit the front line where the actual goods and service are delivered. This is not a walk-through, smile, and shake hands time period. It is instead a time period for in-depth exploration. In particular, look to see if the mission is alive and well or only a document on the wall or in a notebook. Check out whether or not the core values are expressed authentically or whether people are choosing to to do the standard “fake smile” delivery of customer service. Finally, dig into how well key teams are functioning. This holistic perspective will help you as a leader plan better for the future, and correct misalignments in the present.
Third, push back from the phone, internet and e-mail. With a sheet of paper before you, pause and think big. Write out an answer to the following question: “If we had the kind of culture we aspire to, in pursuit of the strategy we have chosen, what kinds of new behaviors would be common? And what ingrained behaviors would be gone?” If need be, reread the following article where the aforementioned question came from: Katzenbach, by Jon R. and, Ilona Steffen and Caroline Kronley,“Cultural Change That Sticks”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2012.
The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is an odd time period, but as a leader you can still use it to your advantage. Coach more, visit more, and reflect more. This will be a good way to start planning for the new year.