In a normal year, summer is the time to accelerate plans that may have lagged. This year, a pause may be the better route.
As the schools end their academic year, and snow and cold seem like a distant memory, it's usually a good time to plan what to do for the remainder of the calendar year. With less than half the year remaining, reflecting on significant projects that may have stalled or are stuck in an endless loop of approvals or other holds can allow leaders to provide an effective push in the right direction. At the same time, there's still time to make an impact. The midpoint of the year is also one of the last opportunities to perform significant restructuring on your strategic plan: enough time has passed to determine an effort has gone awry, while enough time remains for corrective action.
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Stating that this is an unusual year is as much of a blinding flash of the obvious as stating that the sky is blue. If your company follows a calendar-based strategic planning cycle, your plan that was finalized in December was created under very different conditions. Hopefully, you're now in one of the many regions that is reopening and seeing signs of normalcy. While it's wonderful to be seeing the effects of this reopening, we've also just endured nearly 18 months of uncertainty, limited in-person interactions and low-grade trauma. Rather than using the middle of the year to stomp on the accelerator, this year calls for a pump of the brakes, or at least a momentary cruise.
The strategic pause
From a strategy perspective, most organizations created rather tepid plans, allowing for flexibility and conservation of resources due to the uncertainty of whether early positive signs would hold. Several organizations made grand investments in pandemic-related tracking tools, vaccine passports or work-from-home platforms the centerpiece of their planned investments. These items may seem less of a priority based on six months of additional knowledge. Doggedly pursuing investments in programs that may ultimately become irrelevant is a poor use of resources, especially as many industries have whipsawed back to growth.
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Pausing to assess your strategic project portfolio is the easy solution but can be hard to execute since on-the-ground momentum often works against strategic planning. Rather than announcing that all activities should stop and injecting uncertainty into your teams, convene a small group and perform a rapid, focused review of the project portfolio. If a project is deemed no longer relevant, determine how you'll capture the useful work it produced, reallocate the team and close it properly.
Where possible, execute this pause when the pace of work has naturally slowed due to vacations or holidays, and attempt to complete the assessment as rapidly as possible, even if speed causes decisions to be postponed on one or two projects. Creating an elaborate assessment with a great deal of fanfare and engagement of external parties will sap the energy of your project teams and increase stress, as they coast while awaiting the fate of their project.
Pause your people as well
There's nothing new to the notion that everyone from leaders to line-level employees are suffering varying degrees of burnout. Demonstrate the need to rest and recuperate by eliminating any unwritten rules that vacations are bad, and ask yourself whether new initiatives can be postponed. Even well-intentioned activities ranging from new HR policies to lunch-and-learn meetings are one more sound in a cacophony of work-related noise and should be reduced rather than added, allowing your teams some time to recover.
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Some organizations have added additional holidays, incentivized vacation days in various ways, or instituted mandatory shutdowns. While IT leaders may feel like they lack the ability to implement policies of this magnitude, simply emphasizing your personal need for downtime, and how you've made that a priority will set the tone for your teams. The leader who's always bragging about his or her thousands of unread emails, midnight conference calls and purported 60-hour weeks is setting the tone that this is the standard for their team as well. If this describes your style, shift to emphasizing the vacations you're planning, the "screens off at 6" policy you've set for yourself or other approaches you've adopted to combat burnout.
Taking a mid-year pause will pay dividends as another uncertain year careens towards a close. Rethinking your strategic portfolio, encouraging rest and recuperation by your teams and taking some personal time to pause will allow for renewed focus as the world continues to recover, reopen and hopefully grow.
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