January. What a concept.
It’s a time for getting back in the saddle after the holiday season, making new commitments to be better, making resolutions to help us get there, and for feeling like we’ve got a fresh start.
It’s also a time for feeling the January blues, saying goodbye to family and friends, and hello to dark cold days without the twinkle of fairy lights.
As a leader, your teams could be feeling a whole bunch of different feelings this month. Maybe they’re energized and ready to get back to work, or they’re still feeling full of food and are dreading the number of unread emails they have.
It’s your job to inspire and motivate your teams, and get them feeling excited about the year ahead.
1. Avoid burnout by starting slow
Hitting everyone with a 3-hour catch up stand up first thing on the first Monday of the year is a quick way to demotivate your teams. Work isn’t supposed to feel like a punishment after the joys of taking time off. The first week of January is better spent catching up rather than trying to get ahead.
Give your teams as much time as possible to catch up with their inboxes and settle back into their routines. Sometimes work is urgent and needs to be done as soon as possible, so you may have to filter out what that is. You can spend your first day back at work using prioritization frameworks to set out the workload for the month ahead.
There’ll probably be time to put the pedal to the metal later on in the month, and maybe you’ll be lucky and have a team that’s ready to sprint ahead. But if you press them too hard you may find that resentment starts to build and you’re left with sluggish teammates who wish they were still on their couches listening to Mariah Carey.
As with any holiday time, people need space to catch up and get their heads in the game. They need to see what changes were made in Jira while they were gone, go through an inbox full of unread messages, and generally get back to how they work best.
So that 4 hour meeting or that huge project you want to kick off? See if it can wait for the first week of January to be over.
2. Keep the fun going
There’s sometimes a sense in January that ‘the fun is over, time to get back to work.’ But that’s like going into someone’s house, taking down all the decorations, throwing away all of the delicious leftovers and saying ‘welcome to misery!’
Maybe make your first meeting of the year a more casual catch-up. Give people a chance to reconnect as human beings above all else. It’ll help them settle back into their work environment and will ultimately have them back at their best much faster.
Culture is something that has to be worked on intentionally, and if that’s not something you’re already paying attention to, there’s no time like the present!
Try to organize a post-holiday catch up. It can be something purely team-building, like a casual coffee chat to allow people to chat about how their holidays went. Or, if you still feel the need to be productive, a light brainstorming session could get the creative juices flowing.
You could get people together in front of a whiteboard (real or digital) and ask an open-ended question like:
- What do you want to work on this year?
- What was your favorite thing we did last year?
- What’s the craziest thing we could do this year?
- If we had a merch store, what would you fill it with?
- What culture-building activities would you like us to do this year?
It’s not uncommon to feel the urge to get everyone back up and running at the same speed they usually operate at, and side step all things culture in favor of hard work. This is a huge mistake.
Culture is what keeps the machinery that is your team running smoothly. Happy people build great Products, employee retention stays high, and you create an environment that people genuinely enjoy being part of.
3. Set expectations for the year ahead
Now is a great time to give teams an overview of what the next year at your company looks like. What are the big milestones that you’re expecting to hit? What are the biggest, coolest projects that they’ll be working on?
Don’t just talk about the work that they’ll have to do, as that might end up feeling daunting. Instead, talk about the outcomes. How many new users do you expect to reach this year? If you’re gunning for funding, talk about your strategies for getting it. Are there any awards you’re hoping your product will win this year?
Paint a picture of the ideal next 12 months for your team. In January, many people start thinking about their futures, and unless they’re completely, 100% content with your company, their eyes may start drifting towards alternatives. Make sure they know all of the good stuff that’s coming their way in 2022 if they stick with you.
Go for moonshot goals, and harness all of your storytelling powers to inspire and motivate. Get people excited about the year ahead and they’ll get back to work with all the vigour they have to give. This will help them ease back to the working world, and get people collaborating effectively again.
4. Use this month to set career goals
As we’ve said, January is a time for reflection and for thinking ahead in all aspects of life. If you’re a people manager, find some time to sit down with your teams and talk about their career goals. They’ve probably got their personal and professional growth on their mind, and so now is a good time to have that conversation.
There could be new skills that they want to build on, and they’d probably appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about funding their education. They may also be wanting to transition from one role in your company to another, or wanting to take on more responsibility in their current role.
As you’re setting the landscape for the work your teams are going to be doing in the year ahead, work with them to figure out how that work fits into their own career goals. If they want to move into a position of leadership, are there any projects they can take the lead on to get more experience? Or if they’re worried about a particular skill gap, what can be done to help fill it?
More Resources for Great Product Leadership
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