The CIO’s New Year’s resolution: A new year, a new you

A number of years ago, I wrapped up a bad—and I mean bad—year. It had begun on an upbeat note, but by early summer there was a storm on the horizon. Problems were brewing on several fronts and things began to go south. Initiatives soured, and a trusted, longtime executive (whom I’d known for years) dropped the ball repeatedly, failing to deal with lingering problems. All of this became a perfect storm of bad news. The last half of the year found me bailing out the ship; by the time the autumn leaves were falling, I had to fire my colleague. It was, to quote Queen Elizabeth, my annus horribilis.

 

Every year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I make time to sit and reflect on the previous year, what I have accomplished, where I have failed, and what I have learned. I had done this for years, but at the end of this particular year I had a lot to reflect on. It was during this time that I read that every year in January, Jack Welch used to gather his senior executives together and tell them to act as though they had just been newly appointed to their jobs. What would they do differently if they were coming in to their business without preconceived notions and with a completely fresh perspective? I decided to fire myself and then rehire me and, beginning January 2, I would walk into the company as if it were my first day on the job. No ownership of previous failures, no credit for prior successes, no investment in prior decisions—just a mandate to set things right. What would I do?

 

As I write this I am looking at the entry in my journal from that snowy late December day. It fills nearly three pages and outlines what I learned and what I would do differently in the New Year, including quite a few very specific action items. The first week of January I scheduled a meeting with the company’s president who was my boss at the time. I told him that I wasn’t pleased with either my performance or the performance of the organization entrusted to me and I reviewed with him a specific action plan to address the problems. Finally, I told him that if I hadn’t turned things around my midyear, either I would resign or he should fire me. After a moment of stunned silence he replied, “Well, nobody has ever said that before!”

 

We did get things turned around, ahead of schedule, and I survived and had many more good years with the company, but what I learned from that experience was priceless. We periodically need to step out of our role, to fire ourselves so to speak, and look at our organizations as if we were coming in fresh from the outside. The perspective is both revealing and liberating. Have the humility to recognize and admit your failures and to recognize your accomplishments and keep it all in perspective. Then summon the courage to do something about it. If you don’t address the problems in your organization, sooner or later someone else will. It’s just a matter of time.

 

Finally, a couple of years ago I read a great blog post by Melissa Raffoni titled “Three Questions Executives Should Ask for the New Year.” You can find a link to the original post here. The three questions are:

 

1. If there was only one thing I could do to improve my business, what would it be and how would I make it happen?

 

2. If there was only one thing I could focus on to improve my personal performance, what would that be and how would I make it happen?

 

3. What messages am I not listening to or refusing to confront in my business and personal performance and how am I going to overcome that this year?

 

I can assure you that spending some serious time with these three questions will be time well spent. The answers will likely surprise you and may just help make next year one of your best years yet.

 

Happy New Year—and happy new you!

 

Related links:

HealthCare.gov lesson learned: Know what you don’t know

Coach your employees to greatness

 

Joel H. Dobbs is the CEO and President of The Compass Talent Management Group LLC (CTMG), a consulting firm that assists organizations with the identification and development of key talent and with designing organizational strategies and structures to maximize their ability to compete in the business worlds of today and tomorrow. He is also an executive coach and serves as Executive in Residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business. Joel is also a popular and frequent contributor to the Enterprise CIO Forum where a version of this article was first published.

Labels: IT leadership
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