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5 January 2013

New Year’s Resolutions

Tag(s): Leadership & Management, People

So did you make any New Year’s resolutions? If so, have they already been put in the bin of history?

According to recent research by The University of Scranton published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology 45% of people usually make New Year’s Resolutions but only 8% are successful in achieving each of their resolutions. 49% have infrequent success while 24% never succeed on any of their resolutions. The Top Ten resolutions in 2012 were

1.       Lose weight

2.       Get organised

3.       Spend less, save more

4.       Enjoy life to the fullest

5.       Stay fit and healthy

6.       Learn something exciting

7.       Quit smoking

8.       Help others in their dreams

9.       Fall in love

10.   Spend more time with the family

Put another way 47% of resolutions related to self-improvement or education, 38% to weight, 34% to money and 31% to relationships. (These add up to more than 100% because of multiple resolutions.) There was some evidence of age differences so while 39% of people in their twenties achieve their resolutions each year by the time they reach their fifties this has fallen to only 14%. And going back to my second question, only 75% maintain their resolution through the first week, 71% past two weeks, 64% past one month and just 46% past six months.

One overriding difference in those who keep their resolutions versus those who don’t is that they tell people about them. People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.

Now I suspect you could have guessed most of this but this all relates to personal matters. What about making resolutions in our professional career? Well, first I’d like to quote from my old colleague Gavin Pommernelle who is a South African Human Resources expert. Gavin advocates using a powerful tool, the “Stop, Start, Continue” approach.[i]This has been around for a while in many different guises but it boils down to asking these simple questions: what do I want to start, stop and continue doing? Whether looking at performance reviews with your team or looking at services with your client, in each case:

·         I want to stop doing things that are a waste of time, ineffective or which result in negative outcomes.


·         I want to start doing things that make a difference and help me achieve my goals.


·         I want to continue doing things that I’m good at and which are successful.

One of the reasons I suspect people tend to make resolutions at this time of year is that they will have taken an extended break from work, perhaps at home with the whole family or perhaps on vacation on the ski slopes or trying to get some winter sun at the beach. Away from the hustle and bustle of the office they become more reflective and start thinking about what has gone well and what has not gone so well. They resolve to change things, perhaps tackle a difficult colleague or customer in a different way. But in such situations we may not be accurate in our perceptions. As Gavin says: “We are not as self-aware as we like to think we are”. He believes the most effective way to check our perceptions is to ask.  Again he offers a methodology:

Decide who you will ask. These should be a good representation of ‘stakeholders’ who see you in different contexts. This is a form of 360° appraisal.

Ask in a manner that gives you honest feedback. It’s natural to want to avoid upsetting someone but that may result in unbalanced feedback and so missing key areas to address. But “Stop, Start, Continue” allows the other person to give you feedback about what you do well and what you may wish to improve.

Do it in person. This means having a face to face conversation and avoiding today’s disastrous trap of relying on email or even worse, social media, in which the personal becomes impersonal.

Now the work begins. You now have a variety of feedback, no doubt inconsistent and so you need to decide where your priorities lie. You could just get on with it and focus on those areas you had already recognised, but a better approach is to be more systematic.

The systematic approach to effective personal change

1.       Identify your goals and gaps. What is your current situation and what does your desired situation look like? If this is described specifically the gap is clear that you want to address.

2.       Decide what actions to take. You may be able to think of the actions from your own knowledge and experience, from the feedback you have obtained or you may need a coach to help you with this.

3.      Test and Implement. Gavin recommends trying changes in behaviour in smaller ways first so that you can learn what works, fine-tune and practice and so increase the chances of success.

If this all looks like Peter Drucker’s Management By Objectives then there’s nothing wrong with that because it has stood the test of time. Gavin concludes that this method is not just appropriate for New Year’s Resolutions but can be used at any time to improve yourself in your personal impact and relationships.

And that is the message of my second Human Resources expert, another former colleague, Clive Lewis.[ii]Clive worked for a few years as my HR Director but has since gone on to great things and no doubt deserves a blog of his own. After leaving NXT Clive reinvented himself as a specialist in dispute resolution and relationship building. He is the UK’s most published writer and widely recognised as one of Europe’s thought leaders on the topic of workplace mediation. His handbook ‘Difficult Conversations: 10 Steps to becoming a Tackler not a Dodger’ was featured in the Sunday Times. He is the founder of Globis Mediation Group, Healthcare HR Solutions and The Men’s Room – a charity that provides mentoring and training services for young males from poor socio-economic backgrounds. He was the Chair of a government appointed independent panel that produced the REACH report. This identified a cost of underachievement to the UK economy of £24bn linked to this group. Clive was awarded the OBE in 2011 and was commissioned as a Deputy Lieutenant of Gloucestershire in 2012.

Clive started his monthly missive in 2008 which is now read by thousands of professionals across a range of countries. In a recent missive he began:

“I have been kicking myself recently. For a number of years, I have wanted to launch a national mentoring scheme for youngsters from poor socio economic backgrounds. Finally, a few months ago, I did it. The Bridge Builders Mentoring Scheme is now up and running. I have been overwhelmed and pleasantly surprised at the initial success and generosity of so many people who want to help and get involved.

In my spare time, I have been engaging with schools, the police, prisons, local authorities and businesses, finding that I am pushing against an open door (as the saying goes). So why am I kicking myself? I am annoyed that it took me so long to get on with it. In the end, all it took was a few weeks of effort and focus to pull the prospectus together, the energy to bring it to people’s attention, the faith to invest in someone to run it and then to press the button and get going.

The whole experience has made me ponder. If you are anything like me, you too may procrastinate when you have something you should be getting on with. The problem is that time moves so swiftly nowadays, and before you know it, well, the years pass by and you have done nothing about it. The types of things we pontificate over include:

  • Going for a new job
  • Pursuing a change of direction in one’s career
  • Getting fit
  • Moving on from an abusive relationship
  • Losing weight
  • Going to see your GP for a check up
  • Getting back in touch with family or old friends

So, there is now under two months until the start of a brand new year which is when many people typically make new resolutions. If you have something you have been burning to do and have been putting it off for some time, there is no need to wait until the new-year or longer as I did. Why don't you just 'get on with it'?”

So that’s two reasons why the New Year is not the right time to make resolutions. The first is that as Gavin has identified in order to make a good plan we need feedback from other stakeholders first. Just reflecting on the year gone by while dozing off an excess of mince pies and mulled wine is unlikely to establish the best sense of perspective. The second is, as Clive says, the right time is now, whenever we have determined to do something, (or to stop doing something.)

So which New Year’s Resolutions did I make? Well, I resolved not to make any.

Copyright David C Pearson 2013 All rights reserved

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