As many of you know, I am a student of Dr. King’s writings.  This quote has been on my desk since high school and never gets old to me.  It speaks to my value of growth and excellence…it fuels me to make a positive impact on the world. There are days I live up to it and days I do not, but the important thing is that it inspires me towards a vision and goal.

By now, you have settled back in after the holidays and dug into the work at hand for 2022.  My question to you, based on my favorite quote, is were you the best “street sweeper” you could be in 2021?  It was a challenging year for most of us!  In fact, I just read that in one survey most participants reported that it was the worst year of their life!  Know what I think?  I’m convinced this next year will be better!   Part of the joy of kicking off a new year is that it is a chance to start fresh.  All of us can look back and ascertain whether there were areas that we might need to improve on.   I’m going to let you in on a process you can do to focus on those “upgrades” for you as a leader AND a way that you can facilitate a discussion for intentional improvement with your team.

My Own Stop, Start, Keeps

Typically, each year I create a vision board to lay out all of those things I want to accomplish in the New Year.  However, this year I found myself stuck.  When I feel resistance about a process I have put in place it tells me I need to stir things up and change what I am doing because it has become stagnant and uninspiring.  As I sat and reflected on how I wanted to document my intentions for the new year I realized that there were certain things I had been doing over the Christmas break that were healthy behaviors that I wanted to keep doing.  Listening to music more, organizing to make my life easier, and connecting 1:1 with family are all things I had noticed that were working. So, after some time, I decided that this year I was going to do a Stop, Start, Keep the list to get more clarity on my vision board.  It is a great exercise we do with individual clients and teams…so why not?  Here is the process for self-reflection that I encourage you to try for yourself:

Great leaders are effective and quick when it comes to recognizing negative patterns and things that are getting in the way. Ask yourself if there are any thorns in your side — any frustrations you keep having to deal with?  What do you need to stop doing right now in order to move towards your goals? How are you getting in your own way?  What is not serving your interests?  What negative things have you been tolerating (other people’s behaviors, your own behaviors, low standards)?

Examples of Stops could include eliminating not taking responsibility for mistakes, poor systems, pushing to control pet projects, undisciplined spending, and wastes of your time such as death scrolling through Instagram.

These are things you want to put into place in order to improve the situation and achieve your goals.  What new activities, attitudes, or behaviors can you initiate to move in the right direction? What do you want to bring forth in yourself in this New Year? What can you start doing right now that will make a difference?  What does your peer, team, or family need you to step up and start doing?  Whatever you can dream of you can achieve here.

Examples of Starts could be to create more “white space” on your calendar, to be fully prepared for meetings, to tend more to corporate culture, enhance your communication, and solidify your vendor relationships.

It is also very important to identify and continue to do those things that strengthen your company and/or yourself. This is in essence positive pattern recognition. What are you doing that is having a powerful impact on your business?  What do you want to continue that will help you to achieve your goals? What has been working well up until now, and how can you continue doing that? What are you currently doing that is consistent and aligned with your values?

Examples of Keeps might be weekly progress meetings with your team, reading on a daily basis, keeping a good exercise routine, writing thank you notes or following up with your past clients/customers on a regular basis.

The process I am explaining here does not take long and needs to be limited to about 3 or 4 under each category.  For those you chose to focus on just make sure that they will make a really big difference in your life and the lives around you.  Also, make sure they are very actionable and measurable. By the way, some of the examples above are mine…can you guess which ones?

Team Application

At Steople we have utilized the Start, Stop, Keep approach with teams for years.  It is a great way to take a retrospective look and see what is working or not working as a group.  One team I worked with even utilized it as a springboard to choosing some of their strategic initiatives for the year.  It takes approximately 90-minutes and is best facilitated by someone external to the working team so that all members of the team can fully participate.  However, if you want to try it for yourself, here are the detailed steps for the facilitated discussion:

Step One:  Reflection  The facilitator should hand out sticky notes to the participants and tell them the timing for this phase is 15-minutes. The participants are to document what Start, Stop, Keeps they feel apply to the team as a whole.  Participants should keep their sticky notes private so that participants aren’t biased by each other’s ideas. When the time expires, the participants should place their sticky notes on the appropriate easel sheet columns (3 of them) on the wall.

Step Two:  Grouping
  Since many sticky notes will likely contain related, or even identical, ideas, participants should group sticky notes into logical themes. Participants can collaborate and use markers to draw circles around related sticky notes. The facilitator should announce the time frame of 15-minutes and encourage the participants to stand up and move from column to column to make sure the exercise is interactive and fun.

Step Three:  Dot Voting  If there are a lot of sticky notes and/or groups to discuss, it can be challenging to structure the discussion in a meaningful way. If this is the case, the facilitator can opt to use dot voting to prioritize the discussion based on the collective desires of the group. The facilitator should announce the timing of 15-minutes and, if the team has never used dot voting before, explain how it works:

1.    Tell each participant that they have a certain number of votes that they can use to indicate their preference for a sticky note or group. Make sure participants understand that they can distribute their votes as they wish.
2.    Have the participants walk up to the poster sheets and vote on sticky notes or groups (they can use pre-packaged sticky dots or a marker to indicate what they want to vote for).
3.    After voting is complete, the facilitator should sort the sticky notes based on the number of votes each received. This sorted list represents the collective prioritization of the sticky notes.

Step Four: Discussion  The team should discuss the sticky notes in prioritized order. The facilitator should announce the time for this phase is approximately 30-minutes.  In order to ensure complete buy-in, everyone on the team should participate in this robust conversation around what the team needs to stop, start and keep doing to be a high-performing team.

Step Five:  Agree, Commit, and Follow-Up  After discussion subsides, the team should, in order of energy created by discussion, choose approximately 3-5 behaviors per column (Stop, Start, Keep) to document and commit to working on. Throughout the year, the team should check in periodically to see if they are continuing to improve in these areas.

It is two weeks into the New Year…you have barely scratched the surface of the first quarter – have you intentionally set yourself and your team up for success?  Have you been intentional in setting those goals or creating that vision board as a guidepost to your actions and behaviors?  If not, it is not too late to build back better in 2022!