4 Habits to Start in the New Year

Dec 17, 2021

Okay, we hear the collective groan when we mention New Year’s resolutions, so let’s agree that we’re recommending 4 super helpful and value-adding strategic planning and implementation habits to form in 2022 so that your team has a better chance to achieve your big, bold vision.

We talk about best practices and things to do to keep your organization on-strategy every two weeks, but today we’re going to focus on the 4 things you and your team can do and we promise they’ll deliver more certainty, results and engagement. If you’re already implementing any of these, bravo! We hope you’ve seen a positive enough impact that you’re game to take on a few more in January.

We advise that every organization that wants to achieve their vision and succeed at the growth or strategic shift that their plan details will do these 4 things starting in 2022:

  1. Update your growth strategy
  2. Consistently conduct monthly strategy reviews
  3. Refresh your annual plan quarterly
  4. Conduct 2 to 4 strategic conversations next year

Let’s talk about each habit in detail and why we think they’re worth adopting:

1. Update Your Growth Strategy

Markets, customers, and competitors change frequently and quickly these days—is your growth strategy keeping up? When it comes to where to play and how to win, few organizations have money to waste on gut feelings, best guesses, or old habits. So, review or maybe completely update your growth strategy right now if your team has capacity or schedule the time after, but early in the New Year.

Here’s a growth strategy guide that will come in handy.

A few pro tips:

  • Take a few hours to gather and synthesize internal data – what’s selling and what’s not; who is a repeat customer and why; when customers leave, where do they go?
  • Access external data to understand if the market is shifting or if new opportunities have popped up. Even if all you have available is free, publicly available data, an indicator is better than a hunch.
  • Objectively and honestly evaluate the competition and how your organization stacks up. Any new competitors? Are there new vulnerabilities old competitors face? Is there a ‘replacement’ competitor that isn’t offering the same thing you are, but you’re losing customers to them because people are changing their habits (remember how Amazon changed bookstores’ competitive landscape? Don’t be caught off guard by a disruptor in your market)?
  • Prioritize. Pursuing every opportunity for growth will likely crush your team and could actually cause a decline, rather than growth. Which growth opportunities will offer the greatest potential PLUS are within your organization’s capacity/capability right now or with little change: do these first in 2022, then see if you have capacity to venture into a market that would require you to make more changes later in 2022.

Reevaluating your growth strategy every year might be excessive (unless the pace of change in your industry is really rapid), but if it’s been more than a few years since you asked yourself, “where should we play and how will we win there?” now is a great time to start a good habit.

2. Monthly Strategy Reviews

In our Guide on OKR Cycles (or whatever form of plan you’re implementing), we shared all sorts of tips and advice, but let’s focus on what we call, “the monthly strategics.” Promise to yourself and your team that you will implement and stick with holding monthly strategics where your team discusses progress of OKRs: what’s moving along nicely, what is stuck and what is needed to get unstuck. These monthly check-ins are primarily to review performance of OKRs and to determine if there are critical actions or shifts needed in the next 30 days, but they also serve to keep you and your team engaged and focused so you don’t end the quarter or the year wondering why you didn’t achieve all you set out at the beginning of the year. Of course, monthly strategics will run smoothly and preparation will be easy if everyone reports on their progress against OKRs they own using an implementation application; we’re obviously fans of using the OnStrategy Application to centralize reporting and make seeing both the details and the big picture easy.

Check out page 9 of the guide for a sample monthly strategics agenda. Here are a few tips for establishing a productive habit for monthly strategy reviews:

  • Schedule your meeting dates for the year: for example, every second Friday of the month. And NEVER cancel these monthlies—reschedule if you have to. Of course, a tight schedule for the meetings is preceded by a firm, consistent expectation for when updates will be reported before the meeting, e.g., all previous month’s actual progress will be entered in OnStrategy by the Monday prior to the monthly strategic.
  • Plan for 60 minutes and no more. Practice makes perfect and the sample agenda will keep you on track. Consider only discussing off-target or critical OKRs—save the “atta boys” for on-target OKRs for your 1:1s.
  • Monthly strategics are never about public-shaming. If an OKR is off-track, have a constructive, collaborative conversation about how to get it on-track. Consider using prepared and positive questions to get out of excuse-making and keep the conversation focused on solutions: what do you need from whom to get back on-track? What do you recommend be done {differently} in the next 30 days to turn this around?

3. Quarterly Refreshes

Refreshing your strategic plan annually—or worse, every 3 to 5 years—is so last century. The name of success these days is agility and if your plan isn’t agile, your success will be harder to come by. The desire to be more agile is the key reason so many organizations are adopting OKRs: so they can adapt to shifts or opportunities, so they can set targets or outcomes and see them realized and then reset. If you haven’t already, read up on agile planning with OKRs in this guide. By committing to quarterly refreshes, you’re agreeing to set the next 90 days’ focus based on the previous 90 days’ performance.

For details on creating a 90-day planning cycle, read the Strategy Sprints guide. This process takes your vision and annual goals and provides a lightweight, but supremely agile method for planning.

Tips for your quarterly refreshes:

  • Aspirational quarterly OKRs are fine as long as you and the team understand that achieving 70% of the team’s OKRs is completely acceptable (and realistic).
  • OKRs should absolutely be connected to your Vision and strategy. OKRs without connection to your strategic direction are what our founder calls a “goal puddle” — where a lot of folks are doing stuff, but as a team, they’re not achieving much. An agile plan really needs annual company-wide priorities or goals from which teams’ or individuals’ OKRs cascade. Yes, individuals can set their own OKRs if you prefer, but each person should determine the 1 or 2 company- or department-wide goals they’re going to focus on in a quarter.
  • Seems obvious, but worth saying: before you set the next quarter’s OKRs, do a deep dive on the previous quarter’s OKR performance. Some OKRs may need another month or two in the new quarter to be successful—don’t cut off momentum just because of a date on a calendar. Alternatively, if in the past 3 months, an OKR has gone nowhere, discuss if it’s just the wrong OKR (see the first bullet above) or if there is a better way to apply precious talent resources.
  • Don’t over-plan. Set annual company-wide goals and plan departments’ or individuals’ OKRs for one quarter at a time.

4. Schedule Strategic Conversations

We love really interesting strategic conversations, but it doesn’t make sense to only have them once a year. They’re fun! Do more fun stuff in 2022! What’s a strategic conversation? Glad you asked. Strategic conversations cover how you’ll create the future. These are different than the operational conversations about improving the current.

You may choose to hold strategic conversations in tandem with your quarterly strategy sprints or if you’re not following an agile quarterly planning cycle, schedule a strategy session mid-year. Earlier this year, we published a guide, “Is it Strategic? A guide for facilitating strategic conversations” because we found that around month 5, some organizations have lost their ‘strategic mojo’ and are having only operations conversations. Don’t misunderstand, we agree that discussing operations is very important, but those conversations look very different than the strategic conversations we hope you and your team will have more than once next year. Here’s a quick overview of how strategic and operations conversations differ:

Operations Conversation Strategic Conversation
  • ~80% of your conversations
  • Business-as-usual
  • Improving the current
  • Focused on the current operating model
  • Topics are part of the daily “whirlwind”
  • Measured by hard, quantitative outcomes, e.g., number of leads, click-through-rate
  • ~20% of your conversations
  • Not currently within your operating model
  • Not in the current whirlwind of the day-to-day
  • Topics that create your future
  • Or topics that keep you up at night
  • Resulting projects or initiatives are often measured by a project-type metric (putting in place something that doesn’t exist today)

Four best practices we know work shouldn’t be too difficult to become habits, right? Heck, we’d be thrilled if you’d pick up one of these in 2022. And if you’re already practicing any of these, we commend your “strategery” and hope they’re having a positive impact on your team’s engagement and your organization’s ability to achieve its vision.

Wishing you happiness and much success in the New Year!

-The OnStrategy team

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