On New Year’s Resolutions and Insights Emergencies
Many years ago, I was a few months into my first “real” job at Men’s Health Magazine, sitting in my living room sketching out the next ten years. I was an Editorial Assistant. I figured I could nail that in a year or two, proceed up the editorial career ladder one step at a time to Assistant Editor, Associate, Senior, Managing Editor, and Editor-in-Chief maybe…? I’d work hard, put in my sweat equity, and the sky was the limit. Just for fun, I wrote out the steps and started putting years by them. Surely two years each was plenty to spend at any given stage. Obviously, an Editor-in-Chief job was in scope by 35, for sure!
Reflecting now, I’m cackling at both the sweet idealism and incredible drive of my twentysomething self. She was so self-confident and yes, so naïve. The sheer enormity of what I didn’t know back then about the work world, myself, and the incredible pace of technological and societal change that would happen between then and now is a bit staggering.
Alas, as Harvey Mackay once said, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” My idealistic noodling laid the groundwork for gaining the insights I needed to build and manage my career plan which – just for the record – has changed, adapted, and grown about fifty times since then. That spontaneous exercise put me on a path to start asking questions, finding answers, proactively making choices, surfacing naïve assumptions, and making better choices the next time around. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but that first messy, unrefined sketch turned dreams into plans.
Life as a Planner
Over the years, I’ve written plans for projects, programs, and products big and small. I’ve worked on strategic planning teams for programs, divisions, and corporate portfolios. I’ve also religiously used January 1st as a reset date to focus myself for a new year. A few favorite approaches include Christine Kane’s Word of the Year, Happier With Gretchen Rubin’s 20 for 2020, and Liz Ryan’s brilliance. Starting with a vision and a why is always the beginning. The magic comes in breaking things down to manage your team, your business or yourself one goal at a time, one day at a time. For me, this comes as naturally as breathing. I can’t not do it. It’s how I organize chaos and structure my thinking. I have heard rumors, however, that this isn’t the case for everyone!
Dreaded “Insights” Emergencies
Occasionally, emergency fire drills certainly pop up: revenue isn’t coming in the way you expected and you’re not sure exactly why. Do you have an execution issue or has the market changed? The increasing complexity of the COVID pandemic’s ripple effects through healthcare, business, and society at large make this a unique time to try to plan ahead to get the data you need before that emergency arises. If you need quick help to diagnose something, I’m happy to jump in and use my detective skills to dress and do what I can! As a lifestyle, however, it’s exhausting and expensive to constantly be in lifesaving mode.
When coaching a new client or a workshop group, I’ve learned to start with a quick pause to understand what that perfect world looks like for them. Riffing off the R-factor question made famous by business coach Dan Sullivan, I ask them to close their eyes for three minutes (sometimes inspired by REM’s “Shiny Happy People”) to imagine what complete success looks like one year from now or three years from now.
- What are the three most important things to have accomplished in this time period?
- What does that perfect world look like?
- Why are these important?
- What data or do you not know right now that would help you make better decisions to accomplish these goals?
- When do you need to know these things?
- What investment are you prepared to make to learn what you need to know?
- How might we be strategic in structuring this work to get the absolute best return on your insights investment?
Laying The Groundwork and Scaling
Anything is possible once you get clarity on these high-level questions. Every person, team, or organization is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Proactively managing a portfolio of market insights projects over the course of a year, however, instead of taking each one as a one-off greatly reduces overspend on emergency projects and gives you a much richer set of insights to make decisions.
The tools can be simple such as a couple key advisors who you check in with every quarter or a simple post-interaction customer satisfaction survey. As your scope and complexity grows, consider more comprehensive listening tools such as formal advisory boards with customers, patients, or key sales team members or an annual or biannual ongoing quantitative survey. You can ask trend questions to stay current on usage patterns as well as opportunistically throw in a few questions to inform near-term business decisions, too. You’ll already have the ongoing listening channels budgeted and in process. No emergencies needed!
Creating Your 2022 Plan
What’s the current state of your Market Insights New Year’s Resolutions for 2022?
- How might we clarify your two or three biggest priorities to work on in 2022?
- How might we get the critical few insights you need for “emergency” decisions fast and cost effectively?
- How might we identify and act quickly on the key projects that really need deeper qualitative one-on-one interviews with customers to answer specific business questions, inform product/service design specifications that would be expensive to change later, or test and refine concepts to maximize the impact of a new program, a new campaign, a new product?
- How might we create a baseline program we could run in the background to ensure you’re staying current with your customers’ needs and behavior plus macro changes and competitive moves?
- How might we plan for those one or two bigger growth strategy projects to segment your potential customers and prioritize based on opportunity that you’re ready to tackle? A major investment like this could include qualitative interviews to identify hypotheses, a larger quantitative study and datamining work to test and refine them, and finally a collaborative workshop to turn the insights into action. This could mean a huge impact to focus your team and drive results, but they can’t happen overnight – not well, anyway.
Do you need some help? As a card-carrying “goals nerd”, I would be delighted to lead you in clarifying your goals. The Craft part of the Jonquil Ridge process offers a flexible service to tackle questions like these and can scale wide or narrow depending on your needs and preferred “goals” style. Grab a spot on my calendar and let’s chat about how I could help you plan ahead and prevent emergencies in 2022.