September has always been one of my favorite months. There's change in the air as the weather begins to shift in my home state of South Carolina. Most days are still summer scorchers, but we begin to experience the occasional cool day that promises more to come.
From a business perspective, the third quarter is drawing to a close, yet we still have enough time to launch new initiatives or revive languishing ones before the year draws to a close. Here are a few suggestions on how some foresight now can set you up for a strong finish to the year.
Get a look at the big picture
For much of the middle part of the year, we're mired in execution, attempting to put grand plans made earlier in the year into action. Now is a perfect time to step back a bit and make an honest effort to see where each of your key initiatives stands. Internal or external circumstances may have shifted while your head was down, and now is a perfect time to adjust, cancel, or consider alternatives, rather than blindly chasing an effort to completion that will no longer meet its stated goals. It's also worth getting a sense of where everything stands before the official results come in at quarter close. Are your perceptions matching the reality detailed by hard numbers? Is your budget where you think it should be? Are your staff performing appropriately?
As part of examining your team or organization in a holistic manner, take a look at similar organizations outside your own, as well as the broader marketplace. Are there economic or technological shifts that could impact your organization? Has your company shifted its strategy or the markets it is targeting? Are you and your team performing appropriately in comparison to your peers?
Know the distance to the goal
For each of your key initiatives, assess how they're progressing and whether you'll be able to complete them on time and on budget. For those that are lagging on either front, assess how far behind they are and what's needed to get them back on track. There is still time to launch corrective actions, acquire new staff, or bring in outside help, opportunities that may no longer be available at the end of the quarter. If nothing else, you'll have a comprehensive understanding of where you stand and what your options are, knowledge that might turn an uncomfortable quarter close into a galvanizing call to action. I've seen projects that were slated to take the entire year sit untouched until some bold actions in September drove their completion in December.
Assess your staff
Most companies formally assess their staff at the beginning of the New Year, a time when we're swamped with dozens of conflicting priorities and a slate of new initiatives that require care and feeding. Take the time now to review your staff, ideally spending a few minutes with each person. Like your portfolio of initiatives, there are still opportunities to provide the next development milestone to a staffer, or identify a key resource who is a flight risk before they're drawn away in the post-holiday hiring spree. A 15-minute conversation with someone now could turn a mediocre performer into an all-star before year-end.
Inventory how you've grown personally and professionally in the last year, and what remains to be accomplished before the year ends. Perhaps you're loaded with vacation and should embark on the pleasant task of planning a family getaway, or perhaps a promised promotion still seems distant. Get your personal development initiatives moving now, and you'll get a jump on everyone else who waits for the year-end panic. Whether it's reading a few books, starting an exercise program, or engaging with a coach, now is the time to ensure you finish this year stronger than the last.
Take the time to assess your portfolio of initiatives, your staff, and yourself now. You'll have the benefit of time to assess and adjust before quarter close, end of year, and various holidays have your head spinning and time evaporating. A day or two now could be the difference between a wildly successful 2014 and a mediocre one.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.