Blog » Are You Preparing to Win in 2021 or Just Continuing to Work Hard?

Are You Preparing to Win in 2021 or Just Continuing to Work Hard?

No doubt 2020 was a challenging year in so many ways. Whether you were busier than you ever dreamed because market conditions changed in your favor, or you were shut down, had supply chains completely disrupted, or found your customers were negatively impacted, 2020 tested us at work. And that doesn’t even begin to cover how our personal lives were impacted as well.

The key to going into 2021 with a refreshed mindset and energy to accomplish what you believe is possible and probable is to go into it playing to win versus working just as hard to just not lose?

When you are playing to just not lose, it comes at a high price to you and your organization in a myriad of ways. What can you learn from your effective approaches in 2020 that can be replicated, built on, and/or leveraged? What was most painful in 2020 within your control or influence that you can halt from happening in 2021?

To play to win in 2021:

Get clear on winning.

Getting ready to win in 2021 starts with my favorite topic: getting clear on winning. The principles to do this underly all work I do. I am truly passionate about helping others be even more successful. For 2021, we’ve adapted a few steps to address the ongoing ambiguity prevalent in so many industries and sectors.

  1. Pause & consider what you do know (even if it is only small, simple things). Be crystal clear on what is clear. Note it and keep it in front of you, constantly discussing and updating it as necessary.
  2. Engage brains
  • What do we know now (Now get clear on what your team knows. Really talk about it and expose what is going on inside everyone’s heads).
    • Note what the team learned
  • What do we need to learn
    • What are customers & employees feeling & thinking today
    • What are the specific characteristics of future customers and how can you be poised to id and capture them
    • What industry dynamics do we need to factor in

By learning first, you

  • Gather data and balance emotion
  • Understand implications and develop insights
  • Identify strategic alternatives for consideration
  1. Consider triggers to act on. When we are at this level of
  • Orders/backorders/occupancy
  • Production
  • Inventory
  • Market activity
  • Supply chains

What will we do/how will we be ready?

  1. Reimagine and redefine where you’re going with specificity

Use both qualitative & quantitative measures & whatever time increments work in your sector

Consider every aspect of your organization and define as many variables as you possibly can, like a fly on the wall could see it.

  • Core financials
  • Key operating achievements including efficiencies gained
  • Tools, systems in place
  • Safety
  • Core processes/process improvement
  • Supply chain management
  • Measuring & Managing work
  • Collaboration

Use presumptive language

Future – Describe the future state as if you are already there.

Then, note

Active – What did we achieve, accomplish, produce…to get there?

Past – Define it all as if it has already happened (when we have achieved, accomplished, delivered…)

For planning, engage others in further defining

  • Who did?
  • What did?
  • How did?
  • When did?


  • Where do we need to conserve and hunker down
  • How do we define our market share now and in ongoing recovery
  • When can we serve or sell
  • What can we do now to prep to grow when this wave passes – skills/training, processes, tools…
  • How are we uniquely valuable and how can we start messaging that
  1. Make decisions on which initiatives/projects you will now pursue based their strategic value
  • The value is not in the precision of ratings
  • The value is in uncovering all projects and initiatives so you can make informed choices about where resources should now be invested

Make sure you are vocal about what everyone needs to stop doing (projects, processes…) to make space for the most important work

  1. Share your vision of winning with everyone in your ecosystem – employees, customers, vendors, suppliers, partners, alliances and anyone that has a stake in helping you win.
  2. Set clear individual goals that link directly to the organization’s key strategies for winning. Then give ongoing feedback on how individuals and the organization are doing.

 Leverage your brain.

The human brain can work both for and against us, depending on how we use it.  Pay attention to the built-in tendencies of the brain that don’t support good decision-making and practice the strategies for countering them. For example, question what you are sure you see. Balance the big picture and the details. Conduct regular assumption inventories. Stop jumping to solutions. Pause to consider new possibilities. And stop making stuff up!

Feed your brain.

Our brains thrive on data, but in today’s hyper-paced world, it had better be diverse data. Expand your data sources beyond the boundaries of your business and your industry. Purposefully seek out information that challenges your view of the world.  Follow trends that, on the surface, seem to have nothing to do with your products or services. Surround yourself with people who don’t see the world the same way you do.

Once you’ve got yourself (and your brain) focused on winning, do the following to keep employees focused as well.


Make sure employees understand what winning looks like for your organization. Employees used to prefer face-to-face communication when talking about the company’s goals and objectives, but today requires adjustments to that application as well. Use a variety of communication tools to keep the most important messages top of mind with employees throughout the year.

Set up a system to remind managers to discuss the goals and strategic planning framework elements with employees on a regular basis. Provide tools and templates team leaders can use in monthly team meetings and one-on-one conversations. And never stop communicating what winning looks like!


Inspiring people once is easy. Keeping them inspired to win throughout the year is much harder, particularly when the world continues in ambiguity and unexpected change.  Employees need more of this than they ever have. The mostly negative messaging from outside sources can easily overwhelm employees. Focus on the aspirational components of the goal – how it will help to improve the lives of your customers. Share your passion; why is winning so important to you? Celebrate the milestones, both big and little. And keep communicating!


Feedback is the breakfast of champions. It’s also a great way to engage people and support winning. Start by measuring what matters and what people can relate to. In addition to margins, cash flow and other financial data, track performance metrics that directly relate to the tasks people perform each day, such as improving customer satisfaction, speeding up delivery times, reducing scrap, developing a new product or service. Then let people know how they’re doing on a regular basis. When employees can see what winning looks in ways they can relate to, they make better decisions that support achieving the goals.

As 2020 winds down, now’s a good time to pause and assess what worked and didn’t work this year, and then start getting ready to win next year. Don’t wait until January because your competitors will have already left the gate!

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