In a moment of what some would consider weakness I invited 12 children (ages 8 – 15) to make gingerbread houses in my dining room. I knew there would be a mess. I knew there would be sugar highs. And I also knew we’d create an amazing gingerbread village as varied as the 12 children making them.
As I walked around the tables helping the kids build a foundation, making sure all of the candy bowls stayed filled and basking in the smiles across everyone’s face I couldn’t help but visualize what our gingerbread village would become. I had the same feeling as I did leading a 2014 planning workshop the week before; excitement, anticipation and a little nervousness about the foundations we were building.
December always brings with it the smell of cookies baking, the sweet taste of eggnog and the occasional wrapping paper cut sting. It also brings budget planning, business forecasts and a healthy dose of retrospective review of the prior year. But we don’t have to do it alone. As leaders it’s our job to encourage our gingerbread villages of vendors, employees, partners and even customers to come together into spectacular innovation, growth and satisfaction.
Make sure there is a solid foundation – If you have ever built a gingerbread house you know that without a solid foundation it collapse under the weight of candy. With ample royal frosting I encouraged the kids to set a foundation with more frosting “cement” then they thought necessary. The same can be said for our 2014 plans. Provide your team with the necessary data and guidelines upon which to build their plans effectively. Get everyone together on a shared vision, but resist the urge to build the plan for them.
Provide an environment rich in inspiration – With the table set with 20 types of candy, holiday music playing in the background and the sweet smell of cookies baking wafting through the air you couldn’t help but walk through the door and be transformed into the gingerbread making factory of your dreams. While candy may not be your business inspiration of choice, it can help us to think creatively about what will inspire your team. The tools for your business planning inspiration are wide – workshops, competitor reviews, client interviews, even lunch time chats can be facilitated to inspire new ways of thinking about your business.
Set an example – Prior to the kids coming I built a gingerbread house, tree and marshmallow snowman. I left it out on the table as an example. I did this not because I wanted them to copy my design, but because I wanted them to visualize how all the parts staring in front of them could come together. Careful with my instructions to them the boys were inspired by the example, but not copying it. Mission accomplished! Not one of the resulting 12 houses looked like mine. But they all included a house, tree and landscape element (fences, doors, snowmen).
Be ready for a collapse – Despite my best efforts to encourage a solid foundation, Johnny’s house collapsed after being put together. Never fear, we had another set of supplies ready to go. This time his house was equally elaborate, but more solidly built. Mistakes will happen. And if we are prepared they will teach us important lessons that make us better. The key is to anticipate they will come and be ready to respond. What contingency plans will you build? Are your activities wide-spread enough to recover from a failure? Which high-impact initiatives will you weight your resources against? What things can you cut because you know they will have low impact on your business?
Once you’ve set up all of the above get out-of-the-way and let creativity reign. If you want to grow, evolve and keep pace with new customer demands you have to enable your village to change. With innovation we are never going for perfection. If we were nothing would ever be tried. Lopsided houses, trees that fall over and colorful roofs are not only welcomed, they should be celebrated!