New year: old learnings

I wrote an article at the end of last year about planning for 2020. Of course, with hindsight, it wasn't the perfect advice for a year of constant change and uncertainty.

New year: old learnings

I wrote an article at the end of last year about planning for 2020. Of course, with hindsight, it wasn’t the perfect advice for a year of constant change and uncertainty. 

But this is always a good time of the year to reflect on the past 12 months, and what to do better in the next 12. By identifying key learnings and what could have gone better, we can become life-long learners from our own experience, and hopefully avoid the same mistake twice. 

Here are my top learnings from this year:

Never work without a plan

It can be hard to let go of plans that you have spent ages putting together, but the plan you did 2 months ago may now be completely wrong ‘ either because things aren’t going as well as expected, or because they are going much better! It is important to make a new plan, communicate it, and get the team on board with a change, rather than just blunder on into the unknown. 

This year we reacted to the first COVID lockdown by accelerating our plans to introduce a new online learning platform for our team (LearnAmp), and we delayed our hiring plans. We kept to our original plan to promote our Ops Director to MD, and I’m so glad we did, as some decisions are right to stick with. This was a tricky decision at the time, as promoting someone in the middle of uncertainty felt odd, particularly as it could have caused disruption with the team.

But if we hadn’t continued as planned on, we would have caused other frustrations, including confusing line management, broken promises and a lack of clarity at the top. We pressed on, but with a much more carefully crafted communications plan, which went down very positively. 

We’ve completed our 2021 business planning, but it is very much more open to regular reviews than ever before. The economy is uncertain, but we will continue to plan to make the most of the opportunities ahead of us.

Get your language right

I’ve had a tendency in the past to use dramatic language for effect ‘ a common trait in teenagers and the media! It is easy to describe things as a ‘disaster’ or ‘terrible’, when in fact they have been a challenge, but not insurmountable. 

This year I’ve heeded warnings about melodramatic language. For us, COVID and the economy has been extremely challenging. But it has not been an epic disaster, in fact, we are very fortunate to have ‘only’ lost a year or so of growth. 

How we talk about business challenges with our teams can breed panic and chaos, or reinforce our organisation’s culture and strength of leadership team. 

Reframing and recategorising is a discipline for those of us for whom it doesn’t come naturally. Often we need a little help to recognise it and change, perhaps with the help of a mentor or coach. It definitely helps to have people around you who will challenge you and give you real time feedback, as the better we communicate, the easier it is for our teams to trust us.

2021 is certainly a year of new opportunity and rebuilding, and it will be exciting to see how the year unfolds.

Its better together

I’ve always loved flexible working ‘ it benefits me personally, and everyone in our team is encouraged to have a good work-life balance. One of the silver linings of this pandemic is that more companies have opened it up to more people ‘ long may it continue. 

People Puzzles has always been a virtual business, and we have celebrated key events by getting people together face to face, such as planning meetings, induction and training, and opportunities to socialise as a team. 

But right now we are missing some of this magic. For example, new initiatives or casual collaboration isn’t happening in the same way. We need to pre-plan across department conversations rather than just let them occur naturally. People have always moved around internally in businesses as a way to get promoted, which cross-fertilises our departments, often adding tremendous value. Relationships and friendships are built at work which support people in tasks and organisations, and also their mental health.

Bringing people back together regularly through this new year is important so we can have meaningful conversations and good collaboration, even if it is more time consuming, and therefore ultimately more expensive. 

I wish you all the best for the new year. I hope that you are able to take advantage of the opportunities ahead ‘ making plans that are open to change and adaptation, communicating and bringing your team on board with you, and seeing each other, as and when it is possible, to make better decisions and collaborate for the good of your business and the whole economy. 

Ally Maughan
Ally Maughan

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