How to Make Sure Q1 Doesn't Get You Down: Focus First on Yourself, then on Your Company Culture

I just had three CEO one-on-one calls in a row and every person was a bit in the dumps, including me. I felt like I was talking people off cliffs, coaching them to get their energy up and mount to the top, all while I was hanging on by two fingers in a crevice on the side of the rock face. I chuckled a bit at this and decided to explore what was going on. Here is what I came up with...

Q1 Can Be a Bit of a Downer Because:

  1. It’s Dark. At least in Boston, it's dark when I wake my kids up and it's dark when they come home. Let's not fool ourselves, cold weather and darkness is a bit of a bummer.
  2. The Projections Are Lofty. Q1 numbers are set and, of course, we set them high—now reality sets in. The holidays are over and we have a lot to do.
  3. Some of Our Best People Are Gone.  Lots of employees wait until year-end to decide to move on. Losing just a few good ones can take the wind out of our sails.
  4. The Grind Factor. Sometimes, just sometimes, the job can be a grind. Let's face it, we are up early, we are up late, and we have been doing this for five to 10 years, maybe longer. There's no getting around it. Sometimes it's just a grind.

There's a good chance you aren't the only one feeling this way. Your team may be too. And they are looking to you, as their CEO and fearless leader. They look to you for tone, inspiration, energy, and clarity. And as humble as you and I are, we sometimes forget that. Have I gotten your attention?

Here are Three Things to Focus on to Have a Good Q1:

1. Find Your Energy. As you should always do, take the beginning of the year to reassess the way you use your time. Break it into categories: Strategy, Leadership Team, Day-to-Day Ops, Culture, and Sales—then ask yourself, "Is this where I should be spending my time?" Historically, I have always said to assess this with the company's strategic goals in mind, challenging CEOs to look at the best leverage for their most precious commodity, time. But, if you are feeling a bit ragged, ask yourself where you get energy from and where you don't. You are best in places where you have "flow" or energy, so, re-allocate accordingly. Don't burn out. There is zero leverage in that. Here's a Harvard Business Review article I wrote with more info to help you assess how you are spending your time. No time to read? Listen to this brief podcast.

2. Assess Your Personal Leadership. What is your personal approach to leadership? How strong are your leadership skills? Some ideas for continued assessment and growth include reading a book or article on leadership (here are a few of mine to check out) as well as committing to take some time to listen to your staff, your customers, and even your family. Q4 and Jan Q1 require the CEO to do a lot of talking. Normally, we reset the vision, articulate the goals, get people on board—now, it's March, and maybe you should just stop talking for a bit and listen and/or ask questions.

3. Review Your Culture Plan. Hiring and human capital management are becoming increasingly more important as differentiators. Ten years ago I would have said something different. And, as a reminder, I grew up as an Organizational Development consultant. Now, culture is more important than ever. Have you done an employee satisfaction survey recently? Do you have the right HR initiatives? Are you branding internally, as well as externally? Do you like the vibe in your organization? If you have answered "no" to more than one of these questions, I’m going to remind you that as CEO, a big piece of your job is building a sustainable, high-performing culture where people feel good about coming to work and are likely to spread the word as such—whether it be glass door or to refer friends. Your employees provide some of your best PR. Make the investment into that asset.

“They are all good days, just with some bad moments. Luckily, the moments go away and we are left with all good days”
— Ken Dryer, Former Vistage Chair, Former CEO of Eliassen, a CEO Collective Member company and mentor of Melissa Raffoni.