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Resolutions You Can Keep

New Year’s is the traditional time to set new goals, both for yourself and your organization. We asked Performance & Profits readers to tell us their New Year’s resolutions for the workplace, and here’s what they said.

Here are four resolutions you can make for your department and yourself, along with practical advice to get you started on achieving your goals in 2007.

Resolution #1: Increase my department’s efficiency.

“Where did the year go?” It’s a common question each January. The year seems to have flown by before we could get around to accomplishing our goals. Here are some tips from Brian Tracy, author of Time Power (AMACOM, 2004) to stop this year from getting away from you.

1. Use a time planner. The best time planners, whether loose-leaf or electronic, enable you to plan for the year, month, week, and each day.

2. Always work from a list. You can bring order out of chaos faster with a list than with any other time management tool. Begin by writing down every single task you intend to complete over the course of the day.

3. Organize your daily list by priority. Each day, organize your list of tasks in order of priority. Rank each task according to its potential consequences, starting with what you must do and working down to what would be nice, but certainly not essential, to get done. Once your list is organized, it becomes a map to guide you from morning to evening in the most effective and efficient way.

4. Commit to using any time management system you like. It doesn’t matter whether you select one from the variety of wonderful PDAs and computer-based systems, or one from the countless systems that offer an array of forms for writing everything out by hand. What does matter is that you master your preferred time management system and use it regularly—until it becomes a natural habit.

Resolution #2: Improve communication.

Aside from being a worthy goal in itself, open communication is also the key to accomplishing other resolutions on your New Year’s to-do list. Without it, it’s impossible to keep track of where you are and where you’re headed. Here are some things to keep in mind about feedback, one of the most important elements of successful communications.

• Ask permission before giving feedback. Asking permission places a positive framework on a situation that could be perceived as negative. Examples: “May I have permission to give you some feedback?” “I have a couple ideas…can I share them with you?”
• Focus on specifics. When sharing feedback, focus on specific situations and behavior, rather than delving into psychoanalysis. Talk to your direct report or coworker about how his or her decisions affect other people and how his or her actions affect business results.
• Remember: it’s a dialogue, not a monologue. Ask questions, then listen attentively to the answers. Offer suggestions and support. Jointly consider options.

Resolution #3: Help my team members develop.

Helping your team members reach their goals is one of the fastest ways to reach your own. Donald L. Kirkpatrick, author of Improving Employee Performance Through Appraisal and Coaching (AMACOM, 2005), suggests the following to help your team members reach their potential:

1.  Make the job important. People who feel their jobs are important are more apt to try their best, because they realize that it does make a difference how well the job is done. When the manager increases the scope and importance of the job, people are more apt to put forth maximum effort.

2.  Clarify what's expected. Many frustrations and failures occur because employees don't understand exactly what's expected of them by their supervisors. They put forth much effort doing what they think is wanted, rather than what is wanted.

3.  Evaluate performance and communicate the appraisal. People want to know how they are doing on the job, and it is the responsibility of the manager to tell them. This requires the manager to evaluate their performance and communicate the appraisal to them. This process of appraisal and communication should be regular and ongoing; managers should not wait until the annual appraisal interview to do it. Nor should they rely entirely on informal day-to-day coaching. Instead, both formal and informal appraisals are necessary.

Resolution #4: Break down silos and collaborate more with other departments.

It’s easy to become so focused on your own goals that you ignore the goals of colleagues in other departments. In doing so, however, you miss the opportunity to deliver results that you could not achieve on your own. Seize the initiative to break out of your silo by taking the following steps:

• Close communication gaps. What you actually communicate is not always what you wish to communicate. Likewise, what you hear is not necessarily the other person’s message. The actual message can get lost. So you need to be conscious of how you phrase your messages.
• Encourage innovation. Process routine may minimize errors, and save costs, but it can close people’s ears to better ways of doing something and gaining bigger savings. By encouraging the search for innovative ways to do the work, leaders and managers can increase efficiencies and effectiveness—and pull down turfdoms.
• Enter white spaces cautiously. There may be areas of the business that represent opportunities for revenue generation that no one has yet to enter. Rather than trying to take the territory without notifying other potential occupants of the white space, meet with them to get buy-in for your intervention. Better yet, agree to leverage the white space together.