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Lessons from Dolly Parton and Bros: 7 Ideas for a Great 2019

At New Year, a fresh page turns, presenting us with the opportunity to create the year we want. Here are some ideas and thoughts on how to make it happen in 2019.

1. “Don’t be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

(Dolly Parton)

Most people I know are workaholics (guilty). Technology always on, working hours starting early, finishing late, weekends no longer off limits. I discovered the other day that only 0.5% of people in The Netherlands regularly work long overtime hours. They also have the happiest teenagers and score high in the happiness stakes themselves (and, no, it’s not something they smoked).

To get priorities right, it’s useful to plan your personal year before the business year. Here are some questions to help:

  • Who do I want to spend more time with this year?

  • How often do I want to see friends? Where and when?

  • What do I want to spend more time doing this year?

  • What would bring me great pleasure in the year ahead?

  • Where do I want to go? What adventures do I want to have?

  • What do I want to learn or improve at?

  • What will I do to be the happiest I can be?

  • What cultural, sporting or entertainment events do I want to attend?

  • Which bits of my bucket list do I want to tick off this year? (Where is my bucket list?)

  • What do I want to do to contribute to the stock of good in the world? How can I be of service?

It’s worth taking oneself off for a couple of hours with a nice cup/glass of something to think these questions through. Then diarise your plans. Send emails. Who says you can’t arrange a weekend with friends in July because it’s only January? A good client/friend of mine is one of the most impressive change managers I’ve ever seen. She has a Life Plan and works up to two years out on her personal life. That’s what has allowed her to sustain multiple high level roles and travel in 70+ countries in the past 20 years.

2. Set Annual / Quarterly / Monthly Goals

Time and again, I see goal-oriented people succeed more than their meandering counterparts. Goals give us clarity, provide a filter for the use of our precious time, keep our heads lifted and our paths straighter.

Here are some of my favourite questions to help me set new goals:

  • What would I do if I had no fear of failure?

  • What decisions will I no longer put off?

  • What things/ways will I change in 2019?

  • What guidance or words of wisdom do I give myself for 2019?

  • What will I have accomplished if 2019 was a great year?

  • What are the big moves I need to initiate or make to make 2019 great?

Breaking goals into monthly or quarterly planned achievements is so much more practical than annual goals alone. I have just diarised an hour on the last Sunday evening of the month (when the head and the diary are clear) to think about and plan the month ahead.

3. Look up, look out

The world seems to be in a precarious place at the moment. International trade conflicts and uncertainties are jostling world stock markets. This is no time to bury one’s head in the sand. There is always opportunity in change. And opportunity only shows up to those who are open to it. I recall sharing a stage with Tony Reeves, the founder of Office Angels and massively successful serial entrepreneur. He bought up the client lists of local independent recruitment agencies who had folded in the recession of the early/mid 80s. He turned it into a network of 100 branches then sold it. He used the proceeds to do similar in different recruitment and technology businesses. He’s earned hundreds of millions by thinking contracyclically.

In the grand scheme of things, nothing lasts forever. Corners will be turned. The revolving door of politics (or the law) will cause change. The world will keep spinning around. The long-term trend (for humanity and economics) continues to be progress.

4. Optimism is a Growth Mindset

I worked with a company who (I felt) were being too conservative about their growth prospects in a flat economy. I looked at a bunch of their publicly quoted competitors and plotted their revenue growth against GDP growth over time. There were very wide variances in performance. In a contracting market, some competitors stole all the growth (in profits too). Whilst a rising or falling market can make things easier or harder, many companies can and do significantly outperform the norm. Fortune favours the brave and the optimistic. Don’t let negativity or limiting decisions create the very thing it fears. Leave that to competitors.

5. Keep working on the Strategy

Businesses with strong strategies grow faster. But they are rare. Most businesses’ strategy is to be more efficient than competitors. Developing a strategy involves asking questions such as:

  • What changes will most shape the world of our customers and us in the next 5+ years?

  • Who are the prime customers in the future?

  • What will it take to win those?

  • What are the pivotal activities for a business like ours? The ones that really make a difference.

  • How can we innovate those business activities to give us significant competitive advantage?

  • What capabilities, technologies and processes do we need to acquire or develop to gain a competitive advantage?

It’s important to keep asking these questions, to keep searching for a way to break through, to find the uncontested blue oceans.

6. Cooperation is the Key to achieving anything worthwhile

The best book I read in recent years was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. The first great insight is that the main reason Homo Sapiens leapt above other hominids is because they learned to co-operate. Hunting in packs was more effective. More protein made them grow stronger and smarter. The second great insight was that all co-operation essentially requires buy-in to a fiction. All companies and organisations are fictions – a set of stories about identity, the past, the future in which we choose to believe. Stronger, more compelling stories create greater buy-in and greater co-operation. Learning how to co-operate optimally lets your team achieve so much more than the sum of its’ parts.

Yet co-operation can be hard. I just watched half of the fly on the wall documentary about the re-formation of the 80s group Bros. Their inability to co-operate led to their break up. They both went bust and have endured 20+ years of emotional turmoil. The documentatry is like a remake of Spinal Tap except it is incredibly sad to see these twins torn apart – inside and from each other. Neither has yet learned how not to be in competition with each other. Neither has learned how to operate from the basis of security rather than insecurity. Each has unconscious behaviours that deny them the very thing they want – peace, harmony and success.

We see this in companies. Unvoiced resentments, subterranean competition – both often born of insecurities – cause subversive or undermining behaviours in teams and Board rooms. To heal that, we need more honest conversations, more understanding, more willingness to acknowledge our shadow side. In 2019, I will be developing some new approaches to helping teams cooperate more easily because all great accomplishments are the fruits of good or great teamwork.

7. Choose your Mood

The mood of the leader or manager is disproportionately influential and infectious in the workplace. A grumpy, low-energy boss will not inspire great performance. People are happier when the boss is happier. People enjoy work more when the boss enjoys work.

For many of us (but not all) we can decide our mood. We have the ability to snap ourselves out of doldrums or negativity just by getting out of our chair, going for an energetic walk. Rather than be victims of all around us, we can decide to have a great day or week.

Decide to work cheerfully and quickly and you can inject that in those around you. Energy is infectious. Bringing the right mood to the workplace is a real engine of growth. I think "mood" and "feel" becomes a vital part of a company's culture. When colleagues feel positive, they feel more capable, they try new ways of working, they innovate more and increase their productivity. They even sell more. An energetic, optimistic, happy sales person outsells even more technically capable colleagues. Leaders and managers have this invisible force available to them. Operate from the mood you would like to create in the company. Be effusive in your praise, smile, get out from your desk, walk about spreading positive energy. Lift the mood. Create the atmosphere for all to thrive. It's a seemingly small thing but it really matters.

Have a wonderful 2019.

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