Homework for the Holidays

Brimming with holidays, vacations, and busy personal schedules, the last quarter of the year can be difficult, if not borderline impossible to plan for. At times, we feel like throwing our hands up and saying “forget it”, chalking the last couple months of the year up as a wash. We have all felt that frustration and anxiety of meeting year end deadlines with half the resources, money, and time. However, I say Santa’s glass of milk is half full; I have seen my fair share of holiday successes and failures and it’s all in the preparation. If done right, the holiday season can be even more effective than the rest of the year, and I’ll tell you how.

When planning long term timelines throughout the year, rarely do we see a strategic look at the last two months of the year, either assuming it will function just the same as every other month, or assuming they are a casualty of holiday calendar drama. We say, “the timeline will adjust and readjust throughout the year anyways” or “nothing is going to happen after Thanksgiving” instead of asking “what are key activities that need to be completed, who needs to complete them, and how can we align the plan to account for it?” Too many times have I seen key resources slip away on vacation, leaving many sitting on their hands with surprised looks on their faces. Too many times have I seen projects grind to a halt, operations shut town, and the proverbial “pause” button pushed.

Well, (just like any other time of year) vacation during the holiday season needs to be prepared for carefully and strategically in advance. Just like any other project plan, dependencies, critical path activities, and timing needs to be assessed and defined. And just like any other risk, mitigation and contingency plans need to be identified. Step one is coming to terms with the fact that big meetings and workshops are not going to be nearly as effective since key resources will likely be missing either during the session or after to complete follow up activities. Step two is determining activities that can be broken down into individual work efforts and assign small teams (two to three resources) to complete them. And step three is to set low level milestones to keep the team visualizing and realizing progress. These three things will convert your team from “collaboration mode” to “heads down mode,” capitalize on individual work effort, and mitigate lost work time due to absence of vacationing key resources.

Those of us who have had the luxury to work from home know that although it may seem “cakey”, more can actually get done at the home office since there are less distractions and needless meetings. The same concept can be applied to the holiday season. Only meetings that need to happen should happen, and the work you wish you could do all day (instead of going to meetings) finally gets done. The secret of it all is to plan ahead. Rounding the second week in November a work plan should be set to cover your team until the end of the year and adjusted accordingly while your team makes progress and new obstacles are identified. Key, dependable resources should be on point to spearhead work through the holiday season and the whole team should be clear on the expectations and what will be delivered by the new year.

So, I encourage you to not to ignore your team’s high potential during the holiday season; transform them into ‘doers’ instead of ‘waiters’. Prepare for the end of the year – make a plan for it, leverage smaller working groups, and optimize calendars. As my dad always says, don’t throw out those turkey bones from your holiday feast, instead to use them to cook a delicious soup with just a few essential ingredients.

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Email: marketing@westmonroepartners.com
222 W. Adams
Chicago, IL 60606
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