What’s Your Company’s Theme For The Year?
For many of us, the personal and professional plans we made at the beginning of the year have long since fallen by the wayside. I’ve discussed my personal solution for the New Year’s resolution on my blog, but the truth is that companies face the same challenges associated with lost momentum.
I’ve found a simple yet effective cure to the lost-my-new-year blues: the theme. Instead of coming up with a list of specific activities that you plan on accomplishing for the year, the theme provides guiding principles for what you are looking for in your achievements. While it’s more high level, it’s also more dynamic. It allows your organization to go deep or wide depending on how you’re faring during the year. All themes aren’t created equal — so here are a few short steps to help you devise the best one for your team.
1. Keep it catchy.
Do not put synergize, optimize, or any other “-ize” in your theme — I’m so serious. We are not building buzzword bingo. We are creating a compass that your team can refer to in order to inform their work. And don’t worry, your theme doesn’t have to be incredibly creative. One year my team’s theme was “Year Up DC.” We had recently launched our site and our theme was meant to be a source of pride and a declaration. If you insist on being hard-headed and using more traditional lingo, then come up with a catchy acronym. For instance, R&R (revenue and retention) was our battle cry when we needed to focus on sales and service.
2. Address the past.
In 2008, my team had a horrible year and we were feeling really beat up. Several of my peers and superiors had shared that because of this, many seemed defensive and/or dejected in cross-organizational calls. Enter one of my favorite themes, “Heads up, shoulders back, NCR will lead the pack!” The first two parts of the theme were in direct response to the challenges we were recovering from. Instead of looking backwards or down because of what happened, I encouraged my team to look up and ahead at what we could achieve together. And because our focus was forward, we could address the future with pride because, frankly, we’d proven that even when the chips were down we could survive. And lastly, we wanted to show that we could do more than survive the year — we were going to thrive!
Under this theme I set a crazy BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). I told everyone that we would be the first site in our organization to host a sitting U.S. President. We had to get over ourselves if we were going to be ready for it. They thought I was crazy then, but come June we did just that. By that time, the theme had shortened to “NCR will lead the pack,” and we had some much needed swagger to tackle even better challenges before us.
3. Create the future.
In my last example, addressing the past wasn’t enough — we also had to set a vision for our future. This is probably the trickiest part of theme-setting, and where you add the most value as a leader. There are times when your organization has set a target, but oftentimes these goals are at worst confusing and at best not motivating or inspiring. As a leader, you will get the most from your team if you can tap into their passion and purpose (read Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates Us).
I have asked my team this year to MAC (Model Behavior. Align Resources. Catalyze Change.) Across our organization, we are managing hundreds of millions of dollars in 35 cities. The work is complex and challenging for a variety of reasons, but our team is responsible for providing the backbone to these efforts. By becoming MACs, we will “be the change” we’re looking to implement throughout our portfolio.
4. Put it on repeat.
Have you ever heard Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone?” You know that part “again and Again and AGAIN and A-GA-AIN?” Well, that about sums it up. Your theme is only as good as you pound it into the hearts and minds of everyone around you. While you should continue to invoke the theme, you should be evoking different nuances surrounding it each time. For instance, I could spend several months on each of the three letters in MAC because the point is to develop a shared mental model. What good is it if people think they’re modeling behavior, but in fact, are doing the opposite? You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you walk to the water cooler and happen to overhear your theme bubbling around you.
So, what’s your theme for this year? I’d love to see your tweets or comments. Best of luck for your best year ever!