How To Start The New Year Right

start the new year rightWe’re already a few weeks into 2019, but it’s not too late to lay the groundwork for success with your teams that will pay dividends throughout the year.  Best-in-class companies start the year right by taking time to develop Aspirations, identify the Levers that support those aspirations and set a Positive, Energetic Tone to inspire employees.  By embracing these small steps, you and your team will have a shared foundation for executing and adjusting throughout the year as unexpected highs and lows come your way.


If you haven’t already, determine your aspirations for the year – or the next few years – and distill them down to key points that can be a rallying cry for you and your employees.  It doesn’t have to be a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal from Jim Collin’s seminal book, Good to Great), but it should be easy to interpret, paint a picture of success and resonate with the entire company.  

It’s always beneficial to engage employees – and maybe customers – in developing the aspiration, but don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.  If you don’t have an existing way to incorporate employee and customer input, work with what’s already available. Over the years, we’ve helped clients develop tangible, actionable aspirations like:


If you already determined your aspirations as part of an annual planning process – Congratulations!  Make sure they aren’t locked in a drawer. Get reacquainted with them. Recommit to their power. Reiterate them to the entire company.  

The more you use your aspiration, the more powerful it becomes.  Use it as a rallying cry. Use it as a backdrop for communications throughout the year.  Use it to explain business decisions. Your team will come to recognize how important it is to you as a leader, reinforcing that the biggest priorities in the company align to achieve it.


What are the three to five most important things your company needs to accomplish to achieve its aspiration?  Programs that support your aspirations are levers. Often cross-functional initiatives, levers reinforce to employees those accomplishments leadership believes are most closely aligned with achieving the aspiration.

Maybe you and your team identified key levers during the annual planning process, but we’ve found that all too often annual planning produces a laundry list of tasks for individual business functions – instead of focused priorities to guide day-to-day decisions.  Working towards a common goal empowers employees and aligns their efforts with the company’s priorities. Your goal is to provide guidance, not micromanage specific functions.

Here’s an example of how we translated one client’s aspiration into actionable levers:


Like aspirations, levers become more powerful when they are consistently integrated into communications to and from employees.  Engage teams through interim progress reports that reference the levers they own.  Celebrate wins (big and small), capture insights (especially when you face obstacles or challenges) and communicate progress to the company, as appropriate.  

Stuff happens.  If new, critical initiatives emerge that can’t be tied to a specific lever, be as transparent as possible about the change and what’s driving it – and incorporate new initiatives into employee communications going forward.

Positive, Energetic Tone

You have the power to set the tone for the entire company.  Your mood and energy have a huge impact on employee morale and their discretionary effort.  A bit of self-awareness can help set the right tone for everyone.


Look for ways to set the tone through language and rituals.  One simple ritual is to align staff meetings with your aspirations and levers.  Start meetings by repeating them along with any specific metrics or goals for the year that support it.  Incorporate relevant levers as individual agenda items for the meeting, using positive language to recognize progress to date.  Use this time to identify opportunities to celebrate and objectively examine setbacks as a team.

To perform exceptionally and reach aspirations, a positive team also needs energy – energy you can help create.  You’ve hired a bright team who will give to you what you give to them. Look for ways to energize the team through the words, body language and energy you bring to every interaction.  


If you’ve started the year right, everyone understands what’s important to the company and how they contribute to success.  A team excited about future possibilities for the company feels energy and excitement themselves. Use Aspirations, Levers, and a Positive, Energetic Tone to kick off a successful year ahead.


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