3 crucial steps to ending the year on a high note

October marks the beginning of the end of the year for most companies. This is the final opportunity for IT leaders to finish strong.

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As we're entering the final weeks of the calendar year, it's tempting to slow down in anticipation of the holiday season and time away from work. In October, IT leaders should take stock of ongoing operations and active initiatives, and make corrections and adjustments that will have an impact in the next year.

1: Take an inventory

It's easy in March or even August to defer a task or project for "just a few more weeks," safe in the notion that there's plenty of time to recover and rework the schedule. However, that deferral window has effectively closed.

Take time this week to inventory your active initiatives against your annual plan. Are there items that were completed but never formally closed or institutionalized? Is there a project that was deemed critical many months ago, but slipped for one reason or another? Is it still critical, or should it be formally closed out?

With diligent focus, even an initiative that's been deferred for months can be launched and finished before the year ends, but this requires "clearing the decks." Identify the one or two activities you'd like to complete as the year draws to a close, and formally reschedule or cancel those that you can't significantly advance or complete. If you plan to complete a dozen unfinished projects, you'll likely end up with a dozen unfinished projects that made tiny advances. If you reallocate or cancel the bulk of those dozen projects, you'll likely end up completing an initiative or two.

2: Give and get feedback

Even with myriad priorities competing for your attention as you complete the year, be sure to take time to solicit and offer feedback to key direct reports. Ask each employee for suggestions on which initiatives were successful and which could use improvement. Get their input on your planning for next year, and offer candid feedback on their performance.

Many organizations schedule their employee review process in the spring or summer, so providing feedback now allows the employee to put it into action before being formally evaluated. Using the fall for this informal feedback also allows the employee to consider your suggestions and incorporate your thoughts into their own planning for the new year.

3: Develop your January 1 plan

As the year closes, many leaders focus solely on closing the current year's business. There may be budgetary planning or high-level strategic planning, but for most the focus is on completing as many activities as possible before taking a well-deserved break. The problem with this approach is that if you begin the new year "digging out" from under the pile of emails and tactical activities that queued up while you were away, then you must "dust off" your half-baked plan, complete it, and begin setting it in motion. Before you know it, it's February or March.

Spend the closing weeks of the year flushing out your plan for next year, and launching dependent components. If you'll need new staff to execute your plans for next year, get your requests into the HR queue so your requisitions are the first to be issued as the year begins. If you're planning on launching a new project that requires external consulting or software, launch the requests for information or requisition processes.

Brief your staff on key initiatives, not to add more to the end of the year sprint, but to give them time to think about how they'll approach these initiatives during their downtime, allowing them to return to the office in January with fresh ideas and plans of their own.

Calm before the chaos

By refocusing your efforts, you may be able to achieve significant progress on a couple of key initiatives, rather than finishing the year with a stack of unfinished business. It will make the end of the year a time for celebration, rather than a calm environment before a chaotic return to work.

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By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...