Over the weekend, this image featuring a jumble of words came across my Facebook feed, and like thousands of others, I took the bait and even shared it after I’d come up with my answers. Lots of my contacts followed suit, and it was fun to realize what other people “saw” that I had missed. And to realize what a few people “saw” that I’m pretty sure isn’t embedded anywhere in that image. Note: the first word I saw was ‘lessons.’ Which got me thinking.

This is the time of year that thoughts turn to endings, new beginnings, resolutions and commitments. Given the disorienting nature of so much about 2020, we may all be doubling down to ‘turn the page’ in as many ways as we can think of, to put this extraordinary year into our personal and collective history books. But just getting to the end of this year can’t be sufficient to ensure 2021 will be a year to celebrate – and we do deserve to have celebrations next year. So how to think about focus, about setting ourselves and our organizations up for great 2021performances?

As I have noted in earlier posts, this was the 30th anniversary year of our company.  While it wasn’t the kind of birthday year we had hoped for, it was still a time of profound reflections on the three decades of navigating boom times, challenging times, changing teams and changing times.  We have thrived in the face of transitions and trials before, and that provides meaningful confidence that we can again.  So I’ve been thinking about those thirty ‘new years,’ and what lessons stand out as most valuable to apply again.

  1. Finding the right balance of realism and ambition: teams need to be encouraged to stretch and even ‘reach for the stars,’ but not without being provided the tools and the game plan to make those aspirations feasible. Given the uncertainty of timing for vaccines and the lifting of myriad restrictions, it will be critical for teams to have plenty of opportunities to adapt expectations on the fly.
  2. Realizing the wisdom of Kelly Clarkson’s lyric ‘what hurts you makes you stronger’. If your organization survived 2020, you have likely made major strides in effectively managing and mitigating risks. Congratulations, and now prepare to build on that accomplishment by weaving a higher risk tolerance into your decision-making. The scale, scope and pace of change going forward will mean taking the ‘risk’ of faster decision-making, at the least.
  3. Committing to reinforce the ‘connective tissue’ of your team. In addition to the pace and scale of changes ahead, we are all overwhelmed with messages, signals and influences. Keeping colleagues on the same page, with effectively shared goals and situational awareness, will require real attention from leaders.
  4. Ensuring clear accountability and responsibilities. There is no more powerful example of this one than the experience we all shared in the earliest months of the pandemic, when it wasn’t at all clear who we were counting on to make decisions that could minimize the human and economic costs of COVID-19. In collegial organizations like ours, the hardest part of this lesson is the need for consequences: what happens when people don’t meet their accountabilities? Challenging, but essential.
  5. Seizing on opportunities to celebrate. Even those organizations that had great performance in 2020 needed to mute celebrations, given the grim context for the broader population. Yet organizational life thrives on the recognition of shared achievement, so those team parties can’t come soon enough.

Wishing you a wonderful 2021!

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