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Turning Workplace Resolutions into Reality

A notebook with a new year's resolution on it and a plant next to it.

​Much of the world is busy making New Year's resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, drink less or spend less. And successful managers are probably thinking about workplace resolutions—and how they can turn them into reality.

Coaches who work with managers offered these strategies to make workplace resolutions materialize:

First, talk with team members. Have a detailed dialogue with employees so everyone is clear on what the resolution is, what their role might be in getting there and what their pay might be if the resolution is accomplished, said Janet M. Harvey, CEO of inviteCHANGE, a coaching and education company in Seattle. This conversation also helps to foster a feeling of partnership with the team.

The manager needs to think about what strengths, talents and timelines are needed to achieve the hoped-for resolution, said Cheryl Procter Rogers, a strategist and executive coach based in Chicago. A manager overseeing the resolution also must think about what roles employees need to take on to accomplish the goal, she added. Specialist? Collaborator? Supervisor?

Envision it. When setting a business resolution, "design your action plan not from a list of tasks," but from the viewpoint of what you want to accomplish, said Sarah E. Graves, chief relationship officer for inviteCHANGE, who coaches company leaders and has worked as a middle manager. Before anything else, she said, "envision the goal. Have a [mental] picture of the goal" and think about how you will feel when you achieve the goal.

Graves coaches managers to shift from what she calls "portrait" mode to "landscape" mode. In the former, managers are focused on tasks; in the latter they shift to thinking about the overall project, which includes creating a broad strategy to meet the goal.

Sell it. Once a manager has the goal firmly in mind, it's important to "sell" the goal. "Growth and change are a threat" to some workers, Harvey said. "So unless we convince our brain that 'I want this,' it won't work." Once people are accustomed to the change, she noted, the brain can settle down and let its executive function ability—the part that allows us to take action—take over.

Measure success. If the resolution is to come to fruition, managers must set up measures of success along the way, Procter Rogers advised. In advance, know what milestones need to be hit. "That sustains the momentum … and also increases the motivation," she said.

Celebrate progress. Managers who make the path toward a resolution fun won't be disappointed, Graves said. In a previous position, she was director of sales for a wine distributor, managing a team of 16 employees with restaurant and wine shop accounts. The team had resolved to increase sales.

Graves laid out a detailed plan and milestones, then hosted celebrations when her team met each milestone. These celebrations were small but effective: For instance, the team produced a video that matched wine information with popular tunes. "At least once a week, we'd meet at a [client] restaurant, buy the wine and celebrate," she recalls. People struggling with their assignments were paired with more-successful employees, so the effort also built teamwork.

"We exceeded the market sales trend [increase], which was 4 percent to 5 percent," she said. "We came in at a 28 percent increase above the prior year." That accomplishment won them a national award.

Consider attitude adjustments. Resolving to tackle tedious tasks with a different attitude can make the entire process, for managers and their workers, more pleasant and productive. Some workers, for instance, dread the budgeting process and go into it with a negative attitude, Graves has found. She suggested they begin by thinking what they wish the experience would be like. Some said they would like to learn something new about budgeting. One worker, accustomed to acting like a know-it-all about budgeting, dropped her attitude and instead approached the process with new curiosity.

Pivot when necessary. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught managers anything, it's how to pivot. And that's crucial to make resolutions work, Procter Rogers said. Suppose a manager in charge of a company magazine has the whole year laid out, including specific deadlines and which team members will interview whom. "Once you have that in the calendar for the entire year, you pause and celebrate that," she said. But be prepared if a crisis erupts—maybe a change in company ownership, or a pandemic.

Managers, Procter Rogers said, must constantly ask these questions: Has the situation changed? The environment? Do those changes mean we must adjust our plans?

Kathleen Doheny is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. 


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