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What's the best way for leaders to review 2020?

When you look back at 2020, what comes to mind for you?  It certainly hasn’t been the year any of us predicted, planned or even welcomed.  As we head towards the end of the year, naturally our thoughts turn to considering what next, we look to the new year with a renewed sense of hope even if we know everything is going to be just as uncertain as it is now and even knowing here is the UK we have Brexit adding to the mix as we all work out how that is going to work in practice.

But crappy though 2020 has been, it has given us many learning opportunities and there will be wins and things we can be proud of.

So since this is the last episode of The Curious Choice Leader Podcast for 2020, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get curious about reviewing the year, about how we can celebrate our achievements, capture our lessons and make choices about how we apply them to our working worlds going forward.

So are you ready?  Let’s get curious about 2020 and make some choices for the new year.

What made this year so different?

Like many of you I started this year with what I thought was a clear, ambitious but achievable plan for myself and my business.  It started well, KPI’s tracking in the right direction, diary filling up nicely and me feeling confident about it all. 

Then Covid, and almost overnight everything changed.  My diary emptied, my clients needs changed and like everyone else I went into that ice cream brain phase of change.  You know the initial panic where your brain freezes, your head hurts and all you can think about is survival.  I had a period of hyperactivity where I did all the things I could think of, followed by an inevitable slump and desire to curl up under a blanket and hope it all went away.

But like the world around me it was time to adapt.  As a change professional it was an interesting reminder of how it feels to have change happen around you and done to you, rather than being the one driving the changes.  I hope it is making me an even better manager of change as a result.

What did you learn this year?

We always have a choice about how we react to a situation and I have been fascinated by the choices leaders have been making, the upswing in people recognising how important empathy and trust are, the contrast between managers who trust their teams to deliver around their other very human commitments and those who have tried to snoopervise and micro manager their teams through this, how we have been able to learn more about our teams as in most cases we literally see them in different surroundings!

As we have all adapted we have had the chance to try new ways of leading and to learn about what works for us and our teams.  We may or may not have had any training this year to help us – but we certainly will have learned.  I challenge you to take some time and capture all the lessons you have learnt about yourself and about yourself as a leader.  I suspect that there will be many more than came to mind as you first heard that challenge.

Review against your plan and then list your achievementss, planned or not!

So what we have learned is one way to reflect on the past year, but how else can we get curious and really explore our year?  Well normally we would go back to our plan for the year and check how we did against it.  If you didn’t end up literally throwing your plan for this year away, I would still suggest doing this, depending on how you structured your plan you may well be closer to having achieved it than you expected.  Personally I keep my plan based around broad themes that are going to get me where I want to be, and then each quarter I assess where I am and set some specific targets for the quarter. 

I find this keeps me excited about the plan, yet focused on the specifics in the shorter term.  For me SMART Goals are the equivalent of the passion killing Bridget Jones big knickers.  I work best when I have the pull of an exciting dream that is going to make a big difference.  What that means in practical terms is that effectively I have a treasure map and it’s about moving towards the treasure, deciding where to visit along the way each quarter, rather than mapping out the whole route at the start of the plan.  Different levels of planning work for different people, and I suspect you will have some interesting observations about the best kind of planning for you, what works and doesn’t work for you and things you want to try with your planning going into 2021.

And talking of your plan, what have you achieved over the last year?  Was it what you expected?  Was it other things entirely?  What about outside work?  It would be very easy to dismiss 2020 as a year where you didn’t achieve but I would encourage you to really spend some time capturing all the things you did do, and when it’s combined with the next area I’m going to talk about it should boost your confidence and well being as well as help you make peace with 2020.

Celebrate your achievements

Every two weeks, I meet with a couple of fellow business owners so we can connect, support each other and cheer each other on.  We have a standing agenda and my absolute favourite part of it is where we share what we are proud of.  Yes the thought of this is uncomfortable, and I worry about it every time we meet, but it always leads to some amazing discussions and insights for us all.  It also gives us the chance to celebrate the wins that we have had that are meaningful to us even if we didn’t plan them. 

So what are you proud of having achieved this year?

Celebrating your wins and achievements, and those of your team, is really important.  If you haven’t been doing it on a regular basis through the year, now is the time.  The celebrations don’t have to be big material things, they can be little and important to the person receiving them.  Historically for me, as someone who works from home most of the time, they have been going out for coffee.  This year that hasn’t been an option a lot of the time so I have had to find new ways – and my growing collection of house plants reminds me each time I see them of things I’ve celebrated this year.  In fact I should probably get another one since I should celebrate having kept them all alive!  Oh and completing this series of the Podcast!

Even Better If

The next area I suggest you get curious about as part of your review of the year, is the things that you would like to do differently or improve for next year.  What is it you know you have managed but could be better and is ready for an upgrade!  Collecting these ideas is not committing to doing them right away, and when you come to review and reset for next year you may find that you don’t need to do them anymore. We can grow as leaders by working on our weaknesses or by playing on our strengths, we need to do a bit of both but if we only work on our weaknesses we miss our full potential and don’t enjoy what we are doing nearly as much!  It’s the same with putting our plans together, we can build on the good things and we can work to correct the less good things – and doing just one of the other isn’t going to be the best route.

Given the year that 2020 has been I personally am choosing not to spend time reflecting on the things that went wrong this year.  The root cause of so many of them were beyond my control, so I know it will make me feel bad and there won’t be any things I could do differently as a result.  Since the whole point of reviewing the year is to have a pool of data that I can do something about when I think about next year’s plan, it doesn’t seem worth it.

Review what's working for and with your team

As a leader the final area you need to build into your review is your team.  How are they doing?  What is working well for them in terms of your leadership?  What else needs to happen to maintain or boost their performance.  While it can be easy getting data on the outputs of your team’s performance it can be harder to get data to tell you what is driving that performance.  One of the companies I’m working with, TeamLytica has a great tool to help you with this and to support you with your planning for 2021 I’m offering a free review session using their report during December, please get in touch if you want the details.

The world of project management offers us some great insights into how to review how things went and if you want to dig deeper into this I recommend starting with Ken Burrells Book Learning Lessons from Projects – I will leave a link in the transcript for this episode which you can find on my website.

Take time to reflect

So once we have been curious and looked at everything that happened in the year, what we achieved, what we learned and how we celebrated, it’s time to reflect.

Pressing pause and spending some time reflecting on your review is for many people a valuable part of the process – but it’s one we often rush thought and so sometimes fail to benefit from.

When we sit with our findings for a while we allow our brains time to process them subconsciously, making any learnings deeper and allowing our brains to make connections between things we may not have seen at first.

I also find that allowing myself some reflection time means that more ideas surface and I get clearer about which insights are most important to me and need to be implemented first.

When you are working with a team, allowing this reflection time between a review and then planning the year ahead will ensure that everyone in your team is able to make the best possible contribution to the team.

Using your review

Once you have all had time to reflect on your review, it’s time to decide what you are going to take forward into your next plan.  Time to reset and restart.  Time to build leadership into your business planning.  We know uncertainty is going to be a big theme again next year, so we need to be really clear on what direction our plans are taking us, and to be ready and flexible about the exact route we are going to be taking.  
Communicating the plan, and the route, along with the thinking behind it is one of the key ways you create alignment in your team, performance is always stronger when you are pulling in the same direction.

From a leadership perspective, looking at the output of your review and deciding what you are going to continue doing, what you are going to do more of, what you are going to do less of or even stop and what you are going to improve on, will allow you to pick the things that are going to make the biggest impact.  It will also allow you to focus on the business delivery elements of the plan and make sure your leadership is supporting that without you becoming overwhelmed.

As leaders we need to really step into the role, set clear directions and create working environments full of trust, empathy and with room for our team to deliver greatly, whatever circumstances they find themselves in.  We need to implement everything we have learned this year about leading through change and uncertainty, we need to keep demonstrating what we expect from our teams, work with them to take our businesses where ever it is that we want to take them, despite whatever 2021 brings.

Summary & Taking Action

Its going to be an exciting and fun journey and The Curious Choice Leader Podcast will be back in the new year to share it with you.  As I reflect on the year, this podcast is one of the things I’m really proud of, I have learned so much doing it, and talking with leaders about the content in it, I’ve loved taking the time to reflect on what is going on around me and share insights with you all.  It’s been quite a year and I’m looking forward to some reflection time in December, and a chance to rest and come back refreshed and ready in the new year.  Enjoy the break and if you need them the previous episodes on leading change are all there for you to listen to.

So in this episode, we have looked at how you can review the year, looking at what you have learned, what you have achieved, how you did against the plan, what you are proud of and what you are celebrating.  We also looked at reviewing how you are doing as the leader of your team.  Then we talked about pausing to reflect on your findings before building them into your plans for 2021.

You can choose to make 2021 an amazing year, and your experiences this year will help you do that and be the best leader you can be.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experience of over 30 years leading change and working with leaders who are making changes happen.  Some of it will be more relevant to you than others and it's up to you to decide what you are going to do with them. My hope is that you will find something you can take and apply. But that's up to you and it's exactly what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious, building your understanding and then making some choices about what's best for you, your team and your business.

So the question I would like to leave you with is

What lessons are you taking from this year and how are you applying them to next year?

If you found this episode useful and thought-provoking I would love it if you subscribe and share it with others who you think would find it useful too. It would also be brilliant if you could leave a review where ever you listen to podcasts

If you would like to know more about my coaching and implementing these ideas please get in touch and let's talk about how you can become an even better leader, one curious choice at a time. Thank you for listening, and until the next time stay curious and I look forward to talking to you again soon.