It's an odd thing about how humans work—no matter what kind of cycle your business runs on, the social construct of the New Year makes January through March disproportionately important. Understanding why this is true can help you leverage this quirk of human nature to make this year your best on record.
1. The Odometer Effect
Way, way back in the day, a car surpassing that 100,000 mile mark was a big deal; there was something magical about watching your vehicle's odometer flip from all 99,999 back to all zeros. Nobody—especially not your local DMV or DEQ—actually thought the car had suddenly turned new, but that didn't stop the event from having a positive psychological impact on your feelings for the car.
At the beginning of every first quarter, that same magic happens with all of your most important performance metrics. The clock resets to zero, and for three golden months, you have a clean slate to establish a new baseline for performance no matter how rough the last year was.
Nobody actually forgets what happened in Q4 of the previous year, and making decisions without that context would be a mistake. But there's something about that new baseline that helps teams perform by making successes more meaningful as they're chalked up on a blank slate.
This isn't a one-way street to success, though. The power of early success creating high baselines to improve over the year can backfire when a bad early run sets a tone of failure. That's why it's so important to set your team up for success as soon as the holidays are over ... even if you have to lob them a few early softballs to make it happen.
2. The Holiday Hangover
There are two species of holiday hangover, one positive and one negative. Both have the power to set the tone for the year, and it's up to you as the leader of your team to emphasize one or the other.
On the negative side, the holiday season is emotionally and financially rough on a lot of people. That's why more bankruptcies and divorces get filed in January than any other month of the year. Sales, even when they're good, can be disappointing compared to the retail rush of late November and early December. More than one otherwise happy person takes a hard look at their lives on January 1st and leaves that assessment disappointed. This seasonal malaise can seep into your team's work life to limit performance and make people you care about unhappy.
The plus side of the holiday hangover is that same assessment makes people more amenable to change. If you can capture that desire for something different and tie it to a plan of action, your team will be more likely to embrace it during quarter one than during any other time of year.
It's even worth having a heart-to-heart talk with every member of your team. If you can identify the things they would most like to see change as a result of their holiday hangovers, you leave that conversation with a road map of how to best motivate that employee for the rest of the year.
3. The Resolution Dance
Every New Year, millions make some kind of promise to themselves about how they want to change their lives for the new year. By the end of the first quarter, many of them have abandoned or failed at keeping those promises.
This is a natural rhythm of the kinds of personal goals that inspire sweeping resolutions, and as an entrepreneur, you won't be able to stop your people from making and breaking those annual vows. But you can leverage them to make your team happier, and your business more successful.
In January, find out what your people have promised themselves and each other, then provide logistical support. Your night manager wants to lose weight? Spring for a few sessions with a personal trainer. If your office manager wants to get out of debt, set up a bonus program based on the three things you want her to change most. If possible, check in on progress every few weeks to show your support.
Sometime in February or March, most of your people will report failure with their resolutions. They'll take smoking up again, quit their karate classes or forget to call their grandmothers for two Sundays in a row. When that happens, sit down with each of your people and review what benefits they got from the work they did. It won't make them take up the resolution again, but will help them approach the rest of the year without feeling like they've failed.
Jason has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to publications local, regional and national. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at his website.
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