Enlisting New Year’s Energy

At my house, the New Year never seems to happen peacefully. From the moment the clock strikes midnight and the next year officially begins, my to-do list seems to grow to epic proportions. First, there’s taking down all the Christmas decorations, then there’s deep-cleaning my apartment, starting to organize my taxes, trying to get back into shape, taking up half a dozen hobbies that won’t last past mid-January…and that’s before I even go back to work!

A new year always seems to bring energy into our lives and it’s the same at a company. January is the season of kick-off meetings and big-crowd keynotes, and it’s a time to refocus energy and dive head-first into new initiatives. And for the most part, employees old and new love this time of year. People prefer to be busy, and after a restful (maybe?) holiday with family and friends, most employees are eager to get back to work and the energy around the New Year is contagious.

But then what happens?

As the excitement and energy of the new year dies down and new projects are completed or continue to drag on, the sense of communal purpose that teams feel at the year’s kickoff begins to fade. And what’s worse, this drop-off of enthusiasm often leads to the dreaded mid-year slump.

We’ve all experienced it at some point in our careers. The pending sense of doom on Sunday night of having to get up early and drag ourselves back to work to get through yet another work week. All the excitement we felt in January around launching new products or achieving those lofty sales goals seems to have evaporated by June. And instead of enjoying the prospect of new challenges to overcome and wanting to grow and stretch ourselves, we’re counting down how many days of vacation we have left to take and wondering why 5:00pm seems so far away.

And unsurprisingly, once that attitude develops, particularly among young professionals, our mental health and productivity take a nosedive. It’s a common occurrence across companies, but it doesn’t have to be.

When the New Year season comes around, we tend to focus on the same popular goals: eating healthier, getting in shape, traveling, etc. But when it comes to our professional lives, we aren’t always as quick to reassess and organize ourselves. Sometimes we’ll set a large goal of getting a promotion or earning a higher degree, but these kinds of goals don’t always have a clear path forward and chasing a single goal for months on end can lead even the most dedicated professional to burnout.

So, if we as employees are so motivated at the beginning of the year, how do we keep that same level of enthusiasm and drive through eleven more months?

Reassess, Revisit and Engage  

Honestly, the best ways to avoid the mid-year slump is to take the time in January to reassess where you are in your career and revisit some of the things you maybe didn’t find as challenging or rewarding in the previous year. Most people groan when they think of the prospect of going through some form of feedback process with their manager, and we’ve all been in the mindset of “just grin and bear it” at least once when we’re in the chair opposite our boss.

But what can cause more pain in the long run than just getting a 30-minute performance review, is not taking the time to digest your review and reassess what you’d like to improve upon.

Feedback is a gift, but it’s not one we always utilize as best we could. Taking time in the first few weeks of January to reflect on how your manager and your teammates are perceiving your work can help set you apart in astonishing fashion…because so few of us ever actually do it!

Engaging in feedback can seem like a daunting goal, but it’s not as difficult as it may initially seem. For example:

Say your manager gives you feedback that you seem uninterested in meetings. One of two things is happening: 1) Your manager is observing some behavior on your part (looking at your phone, arriving late, etc.), that is giving an impression of disinterest. That’s an easy, tactical fix to improve how you’re coming across to your colleagues. 2) You may not actually be enjoying what you’re working on. And that’s okay!

We all find ourselves at some point or another in a role or with job functions that don’t excite us as much as we’d like. Discovering what we’re good at and what we like to do is an integral part of our career paths. But what so many of us do in these situations is become defensive or deflective of feedback instead of actively engaging with it.

So, in our example, let’s say you (we’ll call you George/Georgia) really don’t enjoy your current project and your manager, Josh, gives you feedback that you seem disinterested. If you just nod along, apologize, and try to move the conversation along, you aren’t likely to see much improvement in your current situation. But what if you tried something like this:

Your Manager: You know, George/Georgia, you just don’t seem to be very interested in meetings.

You: Wow, Josh. I’m sorry that I gave you that impression and I hope that that impression isn’t reflective in the work I’ve done for you on this project. The truth is that I was excited about joining this new initiative back in June, but I just don’t think it’s as much of an interest of mine as I originally thought.

Your Manager: Well, I appreciate you letting me know that George/Georgia. Your work has been great on this project and I really value what you bring to the team. We will be gearing up for a new initiative this Spring. Would you be willing to help us close out this current project if I can find you a new role on this upcoming project?

Not every conversation with a boss will be as cookie-cutter as that, but you can see where the conversation took a much more meaningful turn than if George/Georgia had simply “taken the feedback with a smile.” By actively engaging with your boss, you not only learned that he appreciates the work that you’ve done for him, but he also said that he’s willing to help find you another role that might be more in-tune with your interests. That ought to give you a little boost of energy for the year ahead!

The New Year is a bustling time, but enlisting some of that energy now to set a course for the year ahead will keep you out of the doldrums and on track for a productive, meaningful year.

My Meeting Didn’t Go Well. Now What?

“My meeting didn’t go well.” Now What?

That may sound like one thought. But, it’s actually two different perspectives. It’s our clients who say, “My meeting didn’t go well.” And it’s me who asks: “So, now what?” What did you do to follow up?

The reply is often: “Nothing.”

Because when a communicator has invested a lot of time and effort to lead a conversation or present a new idea and it doesn’t go well, the emotion they feel is…well, at least it’s over. It’s behind me. And, I don’t have to do that again for 90 days. Whew!

It’s an understandable feeling, but a short-sighted one.

As roles expand, managers, directors and new VPs, are handed more responsibility. And with responsibility comes visibility. That’s a great thing because exposure leads to connection with senior leaders and future opportunities. But it also gets harder because topics are more complex, and recommendations are not so black and white.

In our research on executive conversations, we consistently hear that experienced communicators say conversations with leaders only reach their intended result 60% of the time. That means 40% of the time, the communicator doesn’t get a desired takeaway or result.

Whether your batting average is a little higher or a little lower, the reality is no one hits the mark every time. So, you need to know what to do when things get off course.

And, the answer begins by understanding what happens on the other side of the conversation.

The leader notices that you weren’t on top of your game or didn’t walk out with an approved next step. They may be surprised that you missed the mark if they’ve experienced a more successful conversation with you. Or, they may not know you and this may be their first impression. Whether it’s a first impression or a different one, they take note. And, they hold onto that impression.

In fact, anyone would. Your peers or employees would notice a conversation that didn’t yield takeaways. What’s different with a senior leader is that their experiences of you are not as frequent. So, their impressions last longer. Impressions last until they meet with you again or get the next report out. So, the power of an impression becomes more significant because they don’t see you the next day like a peer or an employee would. Instead, they hold onto those impressions, and over time impressions can become distorted.

We know this because we capture feedback from leaders who often say: “When I think about Joe as a communicator, I remember a meeting last year.” Or, “Sue seems like a sincere person, but she just can’t anticipate my questions well.” And, the follow-up phrase is often: “I just can’t get what I need from Sue. She’s not ready to lead this kind of discussion.” or, “Joe needs to lift the altitude of his conversations. He doesn’t know how to focus on what I need.”

And, those are impressions and comments that you need to diffuse. So, what do you do when meetings don’t go well? Three things can help a communicator move beyond a bad experience.

Acknowledge it. As much as you’d like to walk out and forget it ever happened, you need to acknowledge that it didn’t go well. Leaders worry most about whether someone is aware of mistakes. Notice in the quotes: “She’s not ready …” and “He doesn’t know …”. It’s the lack of awareness that sets up concern more than the miss itself.

Within 48 hours, send an email and acknowledge that you missed a point or fell short of having needed information. While the impression may not fade entirely, it’s now blended with an impression of awareness that gets high marks.

Answer it. Most misses are caused by questions that can’t be answered in the meeting or perspectives that were too far apart to find common ground. The solve is usually new information or a repositioning of information. Work quickly to get new information in front of the leader before they lose track of the topic. When you circle back with information, don’t dwell on the solution that you started with and avoid being defensive about the information you initially presented. Provide context to reset the topic and focus on moving the conversation forward.

If you can combine the answer with the acknowledgment, all the better. But if not, send an email to acknowledge and commit to a deadline of when the leader will have the correct information.

Check on it. The two steps above represent a lot of effort to reset a poor impression, and they work. But it’s always a good idea to circle back and confirm that the poor impression didn’t stick. This is your brand, not just a presentation. Use your manager to check on impressions. Ask if the leader has moved beyond the impression. In most cases, you’ll get good insight in return.

If you don’t have an easy way to assess impressions, watch for indicators of impressions. Are you taken out of senior-level meetings or presentations? Do you not get as much visibility as you once did? Is someone else reporting out on your initiative? Those are negative indicators. Or, did the conversation reset and move forward? Are you given added responsibilities and visibility? Those are possible indicators.

The reality is that an increase in visibility means an addition in complexity. These conversations aren’t easy, but they shouldn’t be risky. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody is expected to be. But, if your success rate is only 60%, you may need to improve your batting average.

And that’s where we can help. Hitting the right altitude and providing information that leaders value is a methodology we teach in our Leading Executive Conversations program. From how to recover a miss to improving the odds of success, we can help you improve consistency and outcomes.

Call us when you need us.