It’s January. You’ve probably thought about New Year’s resolutions, even if only to decide firmly against them. January also is when my husband and I mark our birthdays. So, while we aren’t the formal resolution types, we are especially prone to take this time to think about the year behind, the year ahead, and where we want to be in the future.
Businesses may want to do the same. Perhaps it seems late: Your 2024 planning should be tied up with a bow by now (if your fiscal year starts in January), but as you and your team begin to operationalize the strategies you’ve set forth, you can think about what they say about who you are as an organization and about what you aspire to become. That will help lay the foundation for the next 12 months of work.
As a case in point, I recently had a conversation with a friend who had just split from the firm he co-founded. The reason? Decades after launching it, he found that he had a different vision from his partners for the firm’s core beliefs and future pathway for growth.
The majority of my friend’s partners chose a conservative route -- one that maximizes their own income until they choose to retire, at the expense of future growth. My friend, on the other hand, wanted to cede some partner income to spend unbillable time training future leadership, as he wanted the firm to outlive him and his partners.
Why? Because his priority was the continuity of serving the firm’s clients over time. Neither one of these is necessarily right or wrong. These are all good people, and each scenario could yield positive outcomes for both the individuals and the others. Maximizing partner income could also help them to be more charitable throughout their lifetimes, while focusing on training the next generation of leaders would have provided continuity to clients and helped build people’s careers and a whole new source of rainmaking.
The big red flag about this company isn’t what they chose but that the rift came as a surprise to all involved. They hadn’t said, “This is our growth plan, and it’s because these are our objectives.” They simply started leading and functioning at odds with each other, allowing stress and confusion to build for several years before it all erupted into chaos.
The lesson here is that it is critically important to have these conversations among leadership – early and often. Otherwise, it becomes a company out of lockstep, with leaders and staff members making assumptions about the path they are on—and likely getting stuck at a crossroads without clarity about direction.
Here’s another example: I work with a client also led by a partnership. Recently, I facilitated a conversation among the partners about their foundational story, their leadership approach, and how they make decisions. They formed eight years ago with a clear definition of who they wanted to be. They decided they would always put clients and employees first, through quality of work and relationships, with the belief that profit will follow. This has worked well for them -- they have experienced consistent profitable growth through word-of-mouth. They never have wavered on who they are, and they remain on the same page through regular discussions with each other and with their staff of 50. It’s also helped them to formulate their approach to future growth.
They came to me because referrals no longer were sufficient to achieve the growth necessary to continue to be the organization they wanted to be. To take care of employees, they wanted to expand into new verticals offering new and interesting challenges. They wanted to reach a revenue level at which they could reduce partner billable hours to focus more on developing staff as future leaders. My voice-of-customer work revealed an interest in having the partners engage with clients in more of an account management role. This added a new dimension to how they will shift the focus of their time as the company accelerates its growth.
These two companies define who they are in significantly different ways. As a result, they have vastly different growth targets and strategies to get there—including how they conduct marketing and sales. But the most important difference is self-definition, taking stock, and communicating.
In the first company, none of that happened, leading the partners to plow forward individually on different paths until they got stuck at a crossroads, forcing them to start charting a course that split the partnership. Now, they are trying to move forward while coming back from a traumatic period in their leadership.
The second firm, by contrast, never misses an opportunity to articulate who they are, charts a growth path designed to support those defining qualities, and uncovers any obstacles along the road so they can address them well before they reach an impasse.
It’s January. As a company leader, maybe it’s time to ask yourself: Who do we want to be, where does that mean we’re going, and what is our growth path to get there?
If you’d like to talk about these questions, please reach out to me at email@example.com.