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The Unfinished Agenda

At the end of the year, many leaders reflect on what was accomplished and what was not.   This is an excellent time to determine how the annual plan that was put together 12 months ago fared.  Did you reach your goals, and if so, were your goals ambitious enough?  Did you succeed at some but not others? Did forces, seemingly beyond your control, derail your plan?  As leaders reflect on these questions, it begs the next one: what do you do with any items in the unfinished agenda?

Last January, when everything was fresh, goals you set seemed imminently possible.  Now, after the end of a challenging year, the assessment of your process and results can be essential in setting the course for success in the future.

Did You Reach Your Goals?

At the end of the year, there actually should be an unfinished agenda.  If you are able to complete your plan in the face of all the challenges that can occur in a 12-month period, it shows that your planning process is flawed.  You are simply not aiming high enough.

Too often, managers set a goal, such as for sales or growth, based on a percentage change from the current state.  We grew our business 10% last year, so we want to grow our business 10% next year, they say.  What these leaders fail to realize is that this 10% is quite often a totally arbitrary number and is not based on the actual potential that could be accomplished.  Maybe the actual potential is 20% growth or more, but by selecting an arbitrary number, you are ignoring enormous opportunity.

If you reached all of your goals for 2012, were plans ambitious enough?  If you didn’t reach your goals, what kept you from doing so?  Most likely, your plan encountered an unforeseen stumbling block.

Did Unexpected Forces Derail Your Plan?

We call them black swans—those unusual circumstances that make it difficult to execute your plan.   Perhaps it was caused by a shortage of critical supplies in your manufacturing operation, or the appearance of a new competitor, or a new boss with his own agenda.  Many leaders believe that a black swan gives them permission to stop trying instead of being creative enough, innovative enough and persistent enough to seek another way to achieve the desired results.

It’s important to realize that in this chaos—the chaos that the knowledge economy generates—there are more black swans than ever before, and even with careful planning and the best intentions, we will hit barriers in our progress.  Instead of just deciding that we need to end the plan, we must take it in stride.  We need to start expecting the unexpected and be flexible enough to go over, under or around that barrier to get to the goal.

Did You Succeed With Some Goals But Not With Others?

Perhaps as you look at your plan, you’ll see that some items were finished; others were not.  Creating an ambitious plan may mean that it is impossible to accomplish all of the goals, but did you accomplished the most important ones?  In other words, did you do the right things?  Did you take steps to move your organization forward?  Or did you spend your time putting out fires and accomplishing items with little impact?  How has this year’s progress positioned your organization for the future?  If your company is stronger, more flexible and better prepared for the new year, you’ve done a good job.

What Do You Do With Your Unfinished Agenda?

But what do you do with those items you can’t check off as completed?  Assess those items and determine if they are worthy of being carried over to next year’s agenda.  If your goal, for example, was to increase sales 50% but you only attained a 25% increase, that’s certainly worthy of continuing next year.

The unfinished agenda, rather than being a symptom of failure, offers an excellent opportunity to review and reflect on the past year’s results and create a clearer path for the next year.

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