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Making Resolutions Work (Barry Goldberg On Leadership)

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So how did you do with last year’s plans, commitments and resolutions? 

It’s that time of year again. As we approach the end of December, we reflect on the year and look to the changes, both personal and business, that we want to make in the new year. 

We all know the story; we are going to lose weight, get in shape, start that new project and read more. We enter the year optimistic that this time we’ll be successful. But by the end of January, matters more urgent have distracted us from the changes our more optimistic December selves desired.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We are genetically programmed to focus on immediate threats and needs. This is how we survived predators, enemies and, today, competition and regulation. Unfortunately, the outcome of this predictable pattern is that by reacting to immediate threats, we sacrifice the changes that would at least give us a better set of challenges. 

One way to avoid this trap is to understand what is required to navigate any change. These four ideas are the foundation of any change, from losing 10 pounds to reorganizing a global enterprise.

Don’t rush out of the vision stage. We have an idea and naturally want to get the ball rolling. Join a gym, call a meeting of the marketing team, plan a trip — our bias is for action. It feels good, and it is publicly observable. The bad news is that we might not yet be clear about what we need to sustain the effort. 

Instead, spend that immediate energy on strengthening your vision of what life will be like, what the benefits of being 20 pounds lighter will be, or of having the accounting department outsourced. Get clear about the forces that will try to stop you from completing your project, and allow the vision of the work completed to strengthen your resolve. Better yet, invite the naysayers to join you in refining your vision.

With the power of a clear vision, you can give your new idea form and function. With change, the practical matters — budget, staffing, support systems — are often the difference between success and failure. While this is familiar territory, you will navigate the inevitable negotiations about resources and timelines in a more informed manner. Your clear work in the visioning stage will prepare you for implementation.

When you get into action, the status quo will try to smother the change. That’s true whether implementation means getting up early to go to the gym or facing down an organizational revolt. It’s rare that any system embraces a change that it did not initiate. This is easy to see in any corporate change project, where more than 80% still fail to deliver the promised results. 

This is because people don’t love a change they did not initiate or sincerely want to happen. That same pattern is true for the part of you that prefers to sleep in and can persuade you to skip the gym.  

Resistance to change — part of almost any organization — will kill a change project every time if you’re not prepared. Don’t be unarmed for conflict. If we are more resilient than the resistance, we are through the major gantlet and our change will likely become reality.

A new habit or process that survives to become the new reality generally begins the change process anew as we are inspired with new ideas about how to improve, sustain, smooth or recast it to provide more benefit, starting the cycle again. Begin ideating a way to improve on your change all the way through implementation, beginning again with the next level of vision work.

I. Barry Goldberg is a credentialed executive and leadership coach and coach educator with a global client base.
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