Like most people, I am looking forward to putting 2020 in the record books. It has been a challenging year personally and professionally, and the psychological impact of starting a new year is particularly attractive after the uncertainty of this one.
This effect is so acute, in some cases I’m seeing leaders who have already written off 2020, and essentially ceased any efforts at strategic planning or attempts to execute some of their planned projects. While it can feel somewhat quaint to look back on strategic plans developed in late 2019 under very different circumstances, we still have a full quarter left on the calendar, and merely going through the motions is not the way to position yourself and your team for a successful 2021.
While there is still a quarter of the calendar remaining, you and your teams may be contending with uncertain school schedules, which will quickly blend into various holidays. For many, it’s all too easy to wake up the day before toasting 2021 before you’ve gotten around to executing the remainder of your 2020 strategy and planning for 2021.
Consider the following initiatives during the waning months of 2020.
Activate external help
It’s always somewhat amusing as someone in professional services that I’ll have dozens of clients calling in mid-December trying to spend a 2020 budget allocation on some forgotten project that’s sat idle for the first eleven months of the year. The last-minute efforts are usually haphazard at best, so rather than waiting for December, why not look through your budget allocations and projects that haven’t made as much progress as you’d prefer, and engage your external help now? You’ll have time to make thoughtful decisions and accomplish something meaningful rather than just burning budget, and your consulting partners can provide Mr. and Ms. Right rather than Mr. and Ms. Right Now.
Industrialize your new capabilities
Despite the chaos of 2020, you’ve likely developed several impressive new capabilities. Most organizations have compressed years of progress with remote working into the span of a few months, and many have accelerated initiatives ranging from cloud computing to DevOps. For many, these changes have been implemented so quickly the usual considerations around vendor selection and standardization, security, and training were likely given short shrift in the heat of battle.
A calendar quarter is probably not enough time to build an impressive new capability, but it is enough time to industrialize one of your hastily acquired capabilities from earlier in the year. There may be teams in your organization that have perfected remote working, or a system you quickly re-platformed to the cloud using a technique that can be applied to several other systems. Most companies fail to get the maximum value from their technology spend after the stress of implementation subsides, and with so much activity in 2020, this challenge will be particularly acute.
Get a jump on 2021 planning
For every organization, thoughtfully and carefully designed strategic plans developed at the end of 2019 were likely defenestrated a few short weeks into the new year. We’re certainly facing a different world in January 2021 than we were in January 2020, but there are likely elements of that seemingly ancient plan that are still valid for the new year.
If you combine this activity with industrializing your newfound 2020 capabilities, you may actually find yourself well-positioned to accelerate some of your paused 2020 initiatives. Perhaps you’d planned a large software upgrade that required teams from around the world that was quickly shelved due to travel restrictions. Perhaps you now have a newfound remote working capability that allows the project to not only proceed, but to move along at a faster clip since key personnel can gather virtually rather than jumping on airplanes.
Avoid the temptation to surrender
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the last quarter of 2020, and the planning process for 2021, is the desire to simply surrender and assume that any activities and strategic planning you perform will be quickly abandoned based on emerging circumstances outside your control. It’s an understandable impulse to throw your hands in the air and assume events will dictate your actions rather than attempting to plan, but this is fatalism rather than leadership. Rather than looking at planning as an exercise that could be rendered futile, look at the remaining weeks of 2020 as an opportunity to solidify the advancements you’ve made, and incorporate them into a flexible, compelling plan for 2021.