Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • September 17, 2021
  • minute read

How to Lead in Q4 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

Amazingly, there's just one week left before we lurch into the fourth quarter of the year. 

'Q4' is a weird quarter - often  it’s a blur of activity as everyone lurches toward the finish line, feverishly trying to complete their goals, reach their targets. This has two unintended consequences:

1. Perversely, that frenzied focus on 'hitting the metrics' almost always means that the entire organization's focus moves almost exclusively to the short term,  and other, more important but less urgent medium and long-term goals are either ignored. or at best given minimal attention.

2. In the blur of activity in Q4, it's easy to set aside (and never pick up again) commitments and promises you made to colleagues in Q3 (or earlier). No matter how trivial some of those commitments may be, losing sight of them in a time-crush to 'hit the numbers' sends a subliminal message to others that your leadership is transactional and mercenary, whether you mean it to or not.

As a leader, you can’t afford for either of these to happen. So here’s how to lead in Q4 in a way that ensures you hit your metrics and keep appropriate focus on the medium- and long-term while maintaining your integrity as a leader:

1. Complete your strategic plan for next year.

The strategic planning process - whether it's you alone with a notebook and your thoughts, or months of data collection followed by your entire exec team taking a 3-day retreat to pull everything together - is, despite being much maligned, vital to attaining sustained scalability. 

Think of it as trying to build a multi-story building without any architect's plans. Sure, you can try - but good luck getting beyond the first floor.

Sadly, most strategic planning is poor, at best. Many smaller and medium-sized organizations start the strategic planning process every year but never get around to completing it – like school homework, there are always other things that seem more enticing to spend one’s time on. In most large organizations, the strategic planning process sure as heck happens, but it's so cumbersome and bureaucratic as to yield little that will, in reality, have any real impact on the organization.

I'm going to devote the next few blog posts on how to produce a strategic plan that genuinely makes a difference and achieves the goals you need, but in the meantime, if you haven't yet started your strategic plan, here are some questions to get you started.

2. Select 1 or 2 ‘nearly theres’ to push over the line.

If you review your key objectives for this year, you’ll likely find some out-of-the-park successes, a few ‘nearly theres’, and a bunch of ‘never-going-to-happens’. (This post has a process that will help you identify which of your initiatives fit in each of those categories.)

The successes are done and dusted, and there’s little you can do about the last group of sad sacks.

So choose a couple of the nearly-theres (two is quite enough for the remaining time available in the year) and identify the two or three things you could do to push each of them over the line.

Jot down the clear next actions you’re going to take – with whom, and by when – to get them over the finish line. 

3. Weed.

By now you know the two or three main barriers you faced to even greater success this year. Those barriers may be misbegotten initiatives, poor processes, injudicious goals, or, sadly, the wrong people in the wrong place. 

Don’t wait until Q1 next year to tackle the barriers you already know are slowing the growth of your business this year. 

Write them down, stare long and hard at what you’ve written, take a deep breath, and start weeding. 

4. Get a third-party view.

At times, we all can get a little too close to the trees to see the forest. During Q4, for reasons we've already seen, you can bet that this will apply to you.

Call a friend – someone whose judgment you respect, but not someone with a fiduciary or other interest in your business, and trade something (mutual affection, bourbon, chocolate – whatever floats their boat) for a few hours of their time. 

Find a quiet place, bring a bunch of relevant data, and start talking about this year and how it’s turned out.

Be honest, be open, be non-defensive, then invite questions.

Answer their questions in a way that builds a dialog, rather than shutting down discussion. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by what you get asked, and even more so by your replies.

Make notes for later reflection. Later, reflect. 

5. Hunt down outstanding commitments.

The one thing that undermines your credibility faster than anything else is not following through on commitments.

Most leaders fail to do so, not because they’re jerks, but because they simply lose track of all they’ve said they will do for others.

Q4 is a perfect time to fix that.

Walk around to where your main direct reports and your peers live. Ask for three minutes of their time, then ask a simple question: “What have I committed to do for you this year that I haven’t followed through on?” 

"The one thing that undermines your credibility faster than anything else is not following through on commitments." - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success

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There’s no harm in explaining that you’re taking inventory now, so you have a chance to deliver on those outstanding commitments before the end of the year.

Oh, and take notes. You don’t want to be the person who asked that question and still failed to deliver.

How do you close out Q4?

Let Me Know In The Comments Below!

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  1. The end of September is when we do our annual client planning retreat. I tend to do parts of it right along with them. It helps having them in the room to hear afresh what's going on for them. What they're aiming for in the coming year. Then I have almost real-time data to help guide finalizing my plans for that same time frame. We all walk away with a strategic plan for, in this case, 2022, and a jump start on the year for Q4, with clarity about what needs to be wrapped and what can be considered complete even if it wasn't "achieved" – because sometimes your goal isn't THE goal, it's just a catalyst to get you moving.

  2. This is incredible insight Les! Thanks for bringing it to us. Looking forward to the strategic planning posts as well. I've been guilt a time or two at not finishing those due to the busyness of the right now.

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