Over the last two weeks we experienced in our work with a variety of clients how the ‘end-of-year rituals’ are dominating organisations. Yesterday I received an email stating that it would be very difficult to speak “because of YE”.

We push for the last-minute sales boost to ensure we reach volume targets, we pressure our teams to finish the 2016 projects, we run from one end-of-year appraisal to another, and negotiate with suppliers to push this year’s cost up or down, depending on what we need to meet budget (or create a buffer for next year’s).

In the midst of what feels like a very busy period, we find many people in ‘closing’ mode. The dominating energy is focused on getting ourselves to Christmas and making sure the New Year champagne tastes well, not bitter, and close 2016 in the best way possible.

What is key for 2017?

We also experienced how powerful it is to ask yourself the KEY questions for making sure you can start 2017 well, at this very moment. The risk of returning to the office without it is simply that you find yourself running behind budget from the first weeks of 2017 requiring you to play catch up and fall back into reactive mode too soon after the headache of the New Year champagne evaporates.

I was triggered by a CFO’s comment this week: “I am afraid that our first Q is already gone”. And upon recovering from the shock, it made me think: what would it take to hear ourselves saying: “I consider the first Q done (not gone) …”

In our discussion with the CEO and CFO of that same company this week, we decided to focus ourselves on the following KEY questions:

Are our key teams functioning well, within and with each other?

In the same company, we invited the critical functions to present to the Board what they thought (or should I say admitted) were the weak areas in their plans and budgets, to identify what would accelerate the first Q, and what they expect to see as the main barriers in Q1. Stating it in a very operational, 90-day rhythm allowed this discussion to be concrete and precise. It was also not difficult for the Board to assess where the weak and where the lever points are in their company.

The reflection around key people led to a considerate choice on speeding up the organisational changes, which were deemed to happen in 2017 anyway. Probably gaining several months in making things work better and differently.

Upon attending the business critical meeting where the deviations on the KPIs (not laundry list but the three most important ones) are analyzed and acted upon, we found out how most people were quite disappointed with how the meeting was run, and the clarity and energy it generated (or not). The mediocre outcomes of this meeting cascaded further down into the rest of the key functional meetings and teams. As nobody felt ownership of the meeting, all had hoped somebody would change it … And so we did together, on the spot. We decided to change the management information that is the basis of the meeting, and adapt the preparation, flow and output of the meeting. An effort which will no doubt take time into Q1 but will have an immediate impact on the speed of decision making.

All this also allowed the Board to identify the key relationships among key people and to stimulate trust building and alignment efforts to bring their collective performance to a higher level. An effort that focuses on alignment on role, ownership and expectations, but also on nurturing a safe space between strong individuals with a certain, different, and sometimes even conflicting, approach and style.

Your (Maya) calendar

While a lot of the end of year energy is still needed, balancing it with the ‘setting 2017 up for success’ efforts, avoid the yearly Maya calendar syndrome that many organisations suffer: they work frantically towards end of year, as if there is no next year.

Have you checked lately: where are the KEYs for 2017 in your organisation? Are you set up to deliver or to play catch up as of January?

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