Have you found that this year has gone by really fast? I know I have...and when I look at the calendar, and with the couple of short weeks ahead, it's going to be May by the time I look up. Which means year-end is just around the corner. There's a pretty consistent theme around year-end. At this time of year, staff try to take some time off to recharge before the inevitable long days and evenings at work. However, the projects in train 'all need to be done by year-end' so after the few days off (3 days giving us a 10 day break, thank you very much) the intensity ramps up immediately. What this means, is that year-end planning - proper planning, not just rolling forward the timetable and updating the dates - takes a back seat. 'We've got time', we tell ourselves. 'We just need to make this deadline first.' Just like trying to book an expense on 30 June when the work is not yet complete, pushing 'impactful planning' to the back-end of June is too late. You miss the boat and just like our P&L, the results reflect our timing mishap. Here is a Planning Cheat Sheet which identifies the key activities you need to do now to make sure you get through year-end with your sanity and schedules in-tact. When used in conjunction with the planning activities required by the auditing standards and your internal methodologies or financial reporting processes, this will change the way you think about planning. Most importantly, it will dramatically improve the results you get from the planning process.
To help you use the Planning Cheat Sheet, I have elaborated on these items below:
1. Plan your impact: I liken year-end to a grand final. Teams don't go in wanting to come out bloody messes, on a stretcher, or come off injured at half time. Yes, they want to give everything, but they want to play the whole game strong and they want to win. What does 'a win' for year-end look like for you? Before you shrug and say, 'Just to get through the 6 weeks alive', I'm going to give you a bit of tough love. Stop it. You're better than that. Take a breath, pull your shoulders back and ask I'll ask you the question again. What does a win for year-end look like for you? What would you like people to be saying about you and your performance? During and after reporting? (Remember, while your performance review may have taken place, your pay rise and bonus are not approved until the August Board meeting so let's make this time count!). I'd also like to consider your leadership legacy for a moment: is this your opportunity to show the female staff around you that you can stand tall among your male counterparts and shine? I think it is, so ask yourself, 'do you accept that opportunity or do you let it pass you by?'
• What's your moment of exposure? I'd say the first few weeks of year-end are busy, but cruisy. You need to keep the team on track, field their questions and get the numbers closed before the audit starts. About 3 weeks in, the pressure intensifies, review comments start coming in, both internally and from the auditors. At some point, there is a moment of exposure where you have the opportunity to show your potential. When is that for you?
• What information do you need? In order for you to lift and shine during your moment of exposure (let's say it might be talking through a particularly judgmental matter that you'll be presenting to the Board), what information will you need? What data, context, and range of outcomes will you need to be armed with in order to deliver your message with impact?
• Whose support do you need? It's not just up to you. You might be the one requesting information, removing roadblocks, facilitating the conversation, but it's unlikely you'll do everything end-to-end. List all the people who you will need to contribute to giving you the outcome you need.
• Map it out. Calendar, calendar calendar. Not just yours, but everyone involved, so you are all on the same page when it comes to deliverables, dependencies and timing. It seems basic and detailed, but there is nothing worse than hearing your staff have prioritised the wrong thing. Trust me, the investment in getting this set up now will be worth it. Get your assistant involved in this process and have him/her manage the process. They are a critical part of your team during year-end.
2. Pre-immerse in delivery: I sat in a meeting recently where someone said, 'year-end wasn't that bad' and her teammates looked at her like she was on something. It's a bit like childbirth, they say that delivery amnesia is the body's way to enable mothers to overcome the shock and pain of labour and sign-up to doing it again. Our recollection of year-ends can be a bit similar. But in this step, in order to plan for success, we need to try and get ourselves back there so we can identify the tactics and strategies that will work in reality.
• How to keep your energy levels and balance high? What did you do last year that you felt really unclogged the brain, made you feel like you were emerging from the fog, got you inspired to having that difficult conversation?
• How to sustain your team's momentum (especially in the last 2 weeks)? To answer this question, sit them down and initiate this conversation with them. They also may have forgotten, so walk them through the process and ask them what they need. They are better placed to tell them what they need, so don't waste your time trying to guess for them.
• Get your calendar right from the start: As above. Regardless of the conversations initiated above, if it's not clear and in the calendar, you'll find your team cancelling on dinners with their loved ones and on their gym sessions. No good can come from that.
Now, I think this is where we may fear that the female stereotype may get in our way, it might look like this is something soft and fluffy and 'we shouldn't be worried about this stuff - we just need to get on and do it'. But remember, when we get tired, our brain function goes down. We lose our ability to reason and decision making suffers. All this does is increase risk and reduce quality. This is not soft.
3. Reflecting on last year: Follows similar principles as point #2 above, and it's likely you'll remember the low points. Amplify the impact of this step in your planning and have this conversation with your key stakeholders. Their input will be invaluable to this year's process and the early engagement will pay dividends.
• What was the toughest part? Was it a particular account balance, or area of judgement? Was it getting time in peoples' calendars? Was it the auditors? Was it tension within departments? Be honest in this part, otherwise the reflection opportunity is wasted.
• What can you do to get around that this year? Come up with some bullet points and at this point I dare you to think big. Don't restrict yourself....ask 'if I could do anything, with no regard to consequence, what are the things I could do?' Write that list down, and then see what comes through for you? What I don't want to hear (and what I often do initially), is that 'they're all surprises, so we can't plan for them'. I call BS. It is highly unlikely that you'll get something so left of centre that you can't come up with a plan for how to address it. Challenge yourself.
• What conversation do you need to have? Engage with the people involved to get this right. Explain to them the context, your intent, what's in it for them, and listen to their suggestions.
I think this process opens up a really great conversation not only at an individual level, but at the leadership team level. I urge you to raise this in your next leadership meeting as a discussion point - it will really raise your impact amongst your peers. In fact, consider this Planning Cheat Sheet a 'done-for-you' agenda.
Let's make this year-end your best!