January 9, 2015
Should You Think Small This Year?

New Year’s is an exciting time of new possibilities — both in your company and in your personal life.

It’s easy to set goals and strategies that are bold and visionary, yet never materialize. Implementation may never gain traction, despite starting with great ideas. Even the best visions and strategies can stall out.

On the personal front, there’s always someone who buys an expensive gym membership because she needs and wants to lose weight then uses it only once. The big plan smacked into the reality of daily life. The same obstacles hit us at work, just in different ways.

As a CEO, you likely have a vision of where you want to be by the end of the year. But if you don’t have a plan to get there, then no one knows how to take the first step.

It may seem counterintuitive, yet making very small changes at first may be the way to ultimately have a very big impact.

Small Steps Produce Big Results

Keep your Big Hairy Audacious Goal and add to it a mindset of incrementalism. Determine the first steps to building momentum toward your main vision. Ask questions like “What can we do right now to create energy around our goal?” and “What actions can we take now to make progress toward our goal?”

An experiment with a new product or a discussion with a few influential people who care about the same issue may be just the small first step that will take you to bigger places.

Get started as soon as you can. Help others move and begin. Don’t wait for perfect conditions or the right data. Once you know enough to make some decisions, it’s time to go.

There are many tools to help you break goals down, but here are four things to think about as you start the process:

1. Establish a clear direction, and find your co-pilots

After you share your vision, turn to your team members and ask for their ideas to help make it work. Include those closest to the work, not just your direct reports. They may help you refine the goal — and shoot higher! Let them be part of defining the new future. Determine which goals you can commit to this week and this month that will give you momentum.

2. Beware of pretend planning

Don’t fall into the trap of detailed planning months into the future when there are so many unknowns that make it unrealistic. In periods of change, you may face situations that haven’t appeared before. Short-burst planning can help bridge the gap between having a long-range plan and also needing to incorporate new information along the way. Once the vision is in place, I ask my clients, “How far out can you see?” Take your practical plan to that point, then build in a cycle to learn and adjust as you go.

3. Visualize the future for yourself and others

Ask yourself and those around you, “What will happen when we realize our goal?” Think about how your clients will react. This is a simple way to envision tomorrow, then work backward to realize what needs to happen to get there.

4. Learn. Plan. Repeat.

Incremental planning may seem too basic or overly focused on the short term, but taking small steps daily and weekly can create a wave of momentum. The same is true in your personal life. Take time to reflect on areas in your life that could benefit from incremental changes and think about what you could accomplish in a year if you approached everything this way.

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. But taking the time to formulate a strategic plan can turn your incremental goals into powerful tools for you and your company. I am believer in incrementalism paired with big dreams.

How can you dream big and also start small?

Patti Johnson
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consultancy that she founded in 2004. She’s also the author of “MakeWaves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life.” She and her team advise clients, including PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, and Frito-Lay, on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations.

Other Articles by Patti Johnson:

Why Smart Leaders Are Buffers And Translators

Change Your Ways To Lead With Speed

Team Building And Other Leadership Band-Aids That Don't Work

Avoiding Decision Paralysis In The Face Of Uncertainty

3 Ways Leaders Create Change Resistance