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Making December Count

by Karen Jackson  | 4 Comments

I used to find December the most frustrating month. As an entrepreneur, I have a built in propensity for action, particularly for working with clients and forwarding deals.  The trouble is, when December rolls around, customers and prospects become harder to meet with as they contend with year-end pressures, use-it-or-lose-it vacations, and sometimes just exhaustion. Short of dealing with the urgent, many would prefer to punt decision-making to January.

It’s easy for a vendor to fall into the inertia trap, justifying a slowdown with lines like, “if the customer isn’t available, there’s not much to be done,” or, “everyone’s really tired; let’s start fresh in January,” or, “it’s going to be hard to get much done with colleagues on vacation.”  Here’s the problem: you just lost a precious month, and I’d argue that in most cases, “starting fresh in January” really means a whole 2 weeks in January before everyone has geared back up, which means you lost 6 weeks.  Companies looking for growth can’t afford to spend more than 10% of their calendar year sleeping.

I’ve learned that December is actually a gift.  It’s a month that allows for investments in planning, thinking, creating, brainstorming – some of the things we who have a “propensity for action” fail to do enough of.  Here’s my list of ways to really make December count.

  • Give everyone a free day off.  I know I just said that you shouldn’t be sleeping through December. But here’s the truth: your employees are dealing with all the pressures of the holiday season. So guess what happens? They’re spending inordinate amounts of the work day internet shopping for gifts, making travel plans, talking with family members, etc. Give each person a free day off to catch a breath, get organized, go shopping. They’ll be more productive during the rest of the month and the mileage you’ll get in goodwill is priceless.
  • Take a competitor to lunch.  Some of the most valuable information I ever garnered in my businesses was through friendly competitors. Instead of being protective, open up. You’re not going to share your secrets, but you are going to share industry trends, challenges, experiences, stories. Do it one-on-one or in a group. You’ll be amazed what your competitors will tell you if you go into the conversations with generosity. This will be some of the most helpful research you can do for next year.
  • Take stock.  What did we do well this year?  What did we screw up? What prospects converted easily? Which ones weren’t worth the effort?  Did we play well together?  Are there tears in the fabric of our culture?  I could write a pages long list of questions.  Ask the questions that will give you the most insight, that delve into the areas where you’re stuck or frustrated. You have lots of data on hand that you probably don’t look at and analyze often enough. Bring your team members into the conversation.  Ask them the same questions and gain their perspectives.
  • Choose a book. In his manifesto, Poke the Box, Seth Godin suggests holding a group discussion around a book can be transformative for your organization. Pick a book that speaks to an area you are challenged in. Buy a copy for every team member, and schedule a series of discussions around it.  You can do it yourself or bring in an outside facilitator; I find the latter creates a more honest conversation if the topics are difficult, i.e., organizational challenges.  One year I chose Jim Collins’s classic, Good to Great. It was a game changer and provided the team a common language to use throughout the year.
  • Reinvent your meetings. Be honest….are your meetings a waste of time? Do your employees look forward to them or dread them? My experience says that most fall into the 2nd category.  Grab key members of your team and ask them to help you redesign your meetings for value not face-time.  If you’re not having meetings at all, commit to them regularly.  Contrary to popular belief, regular meetings are essential for performance. It’s just that so many meeting formats are poorly conceived, accomplish little and waste precious time.
  • Prospect. Yes, prospects and customers often disappear in December.  But, so do your competitors.  Your company will differentiate itself by showing up, by proving that you don’t go to sleep in December, that you’re open for business. Perhaps you’ll have more difficulty getting returned calls / emails, but you’ll get noticed for having not gone into slumber mode like everyone else.  You may get some resistance from your salespeople – let’s face it, they’re tired, too – but find a way to make it fun. I’m a big advocate of contests to perk up motivation. The reward doesn’t have to be expensive; people care more about then competition than the prize.
  • Pick up the phone and say thank you. Call your key clients and say thank you.  Holiday cards are nice, but a phone call is much nicer. (Please, sign those cards! Nothing says, “we know we must do this but we really have more important things to do” than an imprinted card with your company name and no handwritten message.)  Let them know how appreciative you are of their business. Ask if there is anything you could do for them to make their year-end a little easier. A phone call allows you to deepen your relationship, and hugging your clients is probably your biggest single opportunity to keep the competition out.
  • Plan January now. Don’t risk those first two weeks of January being low value.  If you leave January for January, not much meaningful will be accomplished until late in that month. Get appointments on your calendar now so that there’s no momentum lag come January 2nd.
  • Purge the Inbox. If you haven’t read it, you’re not going to.  If you haven’t filed it, you’re not going to.  If you haven’t used it, you’re not going to.  Quit pretending the pile of reading will someday be tackled.  Clean it out. Start fresh. I don’t know the science behind it, but I do know that getting rid of the clutter allows the brain to create.

Of course, many of these ideas apply for your employees as well. Provide them your own list of ideas that will make December count and please, share them here!

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4 Comments to Making December Count

  1. Gina Fedeli
    December 8, 2011 9:15 am

    Great Blog Karen. I use December as a reflective month to determine what went well the past year, what didn’t go well, what I learned and how I want to approach the first 90 days of the upcoming year. Now you have provided several other valuable tips that I can incorporate into my December planning. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • Karen Jackson
      December 8, 2011 5:48 pm

      Thanks for your note, Gina. I think one of the leadership challenges is keeping folks motivated to get things done when clients / prospects seem checked out. That’s one of the reasons the “free day off” has always worked for me. It tells the team, “I get that you have stresses of the season and need more time to get stuff done.”

  2. mark aiello
    December 16, 2011 9:40 am

    Great list Karen. I especially like the first one. So much that I just told everyone to go home.

    • Karen Jackson
      December 16, 2011 11:30 am

      Thanks for weighing in Mark. Counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Yet I’ve found over the years that to be a much bigger gift to my team than any dinner out or other typical holiday fare.

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