Out With the Old, In With the New? Not So Fast.

Glancing at my calendar, it’s impossible to ignore that we’re well into January – the time of the year when “new” is in vogue. It’s the time businesses often sit down to plan and budget for the upcoming year, asking themselves, “What are the new ideas, new products, and new forecasts for this year?”

It’s always struck me as odd that a whole load of new projects and ideas are expected as part of the New Year’s planning.  New Year, to me, is just a date – like any other date in the year. There should be no radical changes to a company on January 1st, just as there should be no radical change any day of the year. (The caveat here is that I am assuming no sudden market shift that would of course, require a swift change of plan.)

It’s easy to get swept away by enthusiasm when sitting down to plan, but the questions I want to ask in response to this type of heady optimism are: “Why now? What’s so special about the start of a New Year? And is there anything wrong with what’s already working?”

So Why Did I Get a New Phone?

Let me be clear, I’m not immune to the draw of the “new.” As an example: eighteen months ago, I upgraded from my Samsung Galaxy S4 to the S7 Edge. I’d had the S4 for a couple of years and it was great – but it wasn’t new.

The S7 was bright and shiny. It had a bigger screen and better camera, although “bigger” meant it sat a little more awkwardly in my hand. The curved edge was sexy but ultimately cosmetic, and has since proved to be useless.

Early last year, when the S7 was still relatively new, a thin vertical red line appeared down the middle of the screen. I guessed that it was a pixel problem but felt I could put up with it. Six months later, I’d had enough and sent it back for repair.

Fortunately, I’d kept my S4.

While my S7 was out for repair, I re-acquainted myself with my old phone. I popped in a new SIM card, turned it on, and the moment it sat in my hand, it felt awesome. It reminded me of finding the perfect shoe, or pillow, or jacket – it had that feeling of “the perfect fit.” I opened a couple of apps, and wow, the UI was wonderful… especially in comparison to the same apps on the newer phone.

You know what it’s like to meet up with an old friend you haven’t seen for years and carry on as if you’d never been apart? That’s what this experience felt like – and it made me wonder if throwing out the old and ringing in the new was such a good idea after all.

If It Ain’t Broken…

Switching our attention back to the business world, I think the biggest pitfall of the “new” fiscal year is the unbridled optimism that comes with it. This usually heralds a flurry of new ideas, which are often adopted at the expense of what’s already working merely because they’re new. And while it’s great that many have a bright outlook for the coming year, the reality is that it’s usually overblown – a sense of clean-slate freedom fueled by nothing more than a desire for novelty and a random date on the calendar.

It reminds me of a story about Henry Ford that I’ll paraphrase here: one day Mr. Ford walked into his advertising department and said, “I’m tired of this ad, we need to change it.” Before any drastic changes were made, some brave individual piped up and said, “It hasn’t started running yet. You’ve just been seeing the revisions.”

Sometimes what triggers the desire for the “new” is boredom with the “old,” regardless of how well it’s performing – or if it’s even had a chance to perform at all.

Another issue in the New Year is the phenomenon of the new forecast. In my experience, forecasting for the New Year is like an adrenaline rush – an exciting theoretical exercise whose thrill quickly fades once the year is underway and reality sets in.  An aspirational sales forecast set in in December is radically different than one made in April when the first quarter results arrive. The headiness of the New Year forecast has been replaced by the stark reality of having nine months to hit a number you really wished you hadn’t forecasted.

I’ve observed that it takes a couple of annual cycles for an executive to get grounded in forecasting reality. A first-time exec is out to prove they can hit it out of the park; the CEO’s job is to rein in the forecast without dampening the enthusiasm.

Often the annual offsite is used to drive some of the new concepts/ideas for the upcoming year, and that’s where I believe companies get things most wrong. The time for innovation is not merely once a year, triggered by an offsite. New concepts should evolve and be discussed throughout the year, when they can be given careful, contextual consideration.

How a Friendly Spider Helps With Strategy

In the Fall of 2015, we had a transformational event at Point It: the first offsite we had held in several years. During the offsite, we determined a course of action and implemented a goal management process to ensure that actions would be taken and people held accountable.

This was a very cathartic, successful change for us. Our business consultant, John Cioffi, author of The Winning Manager’s Playbook, had taken us through the offsite and it was his methodology we implemented – to great success.

After a few months, when we saw how well this was working, I asked John if we should consider having an offsite each year. His response surprised me.

“No,” said John. “You won’t need an annual offsite anymore. All you need is a spider.”

Jon had us implement his spider diagram (below).

A multi-legged "spider" diagram shows various factors supporting company strategy, which then feed into company goals.

 

Each month we use it to assess trends, strengths, weaknesses, competition, risks and opportunities – that is, many of the key areas that are a part of every annual planning offsite. The benefit of this monthly approach is that we are always asking ourselves if we are on strategy, and if not, then what needs to change. It’s become part of our DNA.

In other words, our drive to improve is continuous. It’s never tied to a single date, it’s not reliant on a “New Year,” and there’s never a sudden triggering event where the “old” is thrown out.

I’m not dissing offsites – we did another in the Fall of 2017 because we had a new team in place and I wanted them to own the strategy going forward. We won’t do an offsite this year, however. Our team and our strategy are in place. We’ll be using our spider to make sure we stay on track throughout the year.

New or Old? That is the Question

Soon I’ll get my S7 back from Samsung, and I’m sure it will be as good as new. But as I’ve used the S4 more and more this week, I wonder if I made the right move last year in buying the S7. It was more expensive, and its overall cost now includes a pricey repair. I’ll chalk the cost of the repair up as relatively low price to pay for a much more valuable lesson: maybe the “old” was good and actually “new” enough.

What's Next?

Are you working with an “old” marketing strategy that you’re considering abandoning for something newer and shinier? Point It can help you assess where the “old” might serve you well this New Year – contact Frank to start the conversation.

Frank Coyle About the author
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