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Outlier’s Path

Letter to Younger Self (as COO/CFO)

Dear COO or CFO,

Whether a company’s strategic and operating reviews or an employee’s performance feedback, Sweet November is often a month of reflecting on our year’s performance, embracing change to finish the year strong, and planning for growth for the coming year. Often these processes are tedious, template-driven exercises that suck the life and creativity of the company. Somewhere along our professional lives, we concluded that planning processes and performance feedback are filled with scrutiny, difficult conversations, and misery. We put up all sorts of defenses to deal with or avoid them.

Planning processes and performance feedback should not be soul-zapping. We should make them incredibly energizing. They allow us to reflect on the year, rethink our priorities, reinvent on behalf of the customer, reallocate our efforts and resources, and reaffirm our shared objectives.

Planning processes do not start with an abstraction to a beautiful top-down financial model. It starts with our mission, strategy, customers, products, and how we go to market. Then, we must set challenging yet achievable goals and sparingly allocate resources behind each initiative. Finally, because resources are scarce, our planning prioritization must help us determine how to objectively marshall our limited resources to the most critical initiatives.

Performance feedback doesn’t start with how we justify our team’s bonuses. It begins with an honest assessment of our commitments to ourselves and our team members, followed by our areas of growth and improvement, and finally, aligning our personal goals for the coming year to our company’s goals. As employees, we grow as professionals by helping our company grow.

Planning processes and performance feedback allow us to dream about the future, so start dreaming about what we, our team, and our company can become. We still need to execute, as Colin Powell will remind us, “a dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.” But when you feel drained from iterative cycles of review and planning meetings, fuel your energy levels with Eleanor Roosevelt’s words that “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”