Look Back, Look Forward

Damen Jackson > Blog > DJ Original Blog > Look Back, Look Forward

The end of the year is a great time to reflect. Some things went exceptionally well. Others fell flat (or at least came below expectations). It happens—to all of us. We do our best to drive our team to excel, to reach high, to challenge assumptions, grow the business and themselves.

A retrospective.

Many of our clients do a “year in review” for their top customers: what worked, what did not work, what could we do better, what did we learn? Usually, there are learnings that can be applied on both sides of the table—some things we can do better, some things that the client missed, or that they did not execute against fully. It is best to be totally honest in these reviews.

The conversations that take place from looking at 2023 results can be illuminating. Looking in the mirror isn’t easy. Admitting mistakes is humbling. The search for actionable answers involves getting underneath the root causes for what actually happened and what can be done to be better.

Were promises made and not kept (from you or your suppliers)? Did a new product not live up to expectations? Was the impact on sales from a new package design less than forecast? There are so many questions!

And not all questions are about misses. You also want to dig into those things that went really well, that were far above expectations. Did you uncover a positioning or messaging, or packaging refresh that ignited growth? Was your line extension a hit in terms of bringing in new users to the franchise? Did you get a major new client win that expanded your distribution?

There are important lessons from both hits and foul balls. Ask your team to do their own retrospective. Then sit down and talk about how you can apply those learnings to the coming year. You may even be able to tweak existing plans for the first quarter if you hustle. Better to fix things before they hit the market then try to adjust after the fact.

We have seen value in sharing a year-end report card with your employees. And tell it like it is! Importantly, highlight progress made on your top strategies and priorities. Include how you plan to take what you learned and apply it in the new year. They will appreciate honesty and transparency.

Then we recommend that you have each functional group and team do the same exercise. Ask them to independently assess how the year went, and what they intend to do differently for a better performance in 2024. Make sure that your folks take a fresh look at the market and your competitors, and not just at yourselves. Eyes wide open as they say. New insights may emerge that you can put to work.

Performance reviews.

Virtually all of our clients complete performance reviews this time of year. We have seen where asking each employee for their own self-assessment can lead to better alignment regarding their performance rating. And, talking with your top leaders about your perspective on employee ratings often results in better consistency across teams. Importantly, you should closely link employee performance with compensation actions. Resist the temptation to take an even-handed approach where everybody gets roughly the same merit increase. Your higher performers deserve more substantial raises. The most important part of these conversations is around the specific measurable goals to be achieved in 2024, and the behaviors and leadership that will drive improved results.

Outside Partners.

Performance reviews and setting expectations for the year ahead are not just for your employees. Sit down with your key agencies, vendors, and suppliers to have similar direct and honest conversations that focus on lessons learned, how results can be improved, and top priorities. Don’t forget to ask how you can be a better client as well, as it is a two-way street.

You may learn of new developments, capabilities, or technologies that are in the works that have the potential to be a differentiator for the agency and for you. At a minimum, you can form a closer working relationship. Holiday parties are nice, but doing great work and making things happen is even better.

We have even seen clients that recognize their partners with awards like agency of the year. This is a thoughtful gesture. However, our preference is to celebrate collaborative wins, and then get on with generating powerful growth initiatives.

Full circle.

Complete your year-end interactions with employees and agency partners with a hard look at your budget and game plan for 2024. You likely put together your plans for the year ahead some months ago. Capture any new revelations that came out of your retrospective reviews and move quickly to see if there are any opportunities to make adjustments. Agility is a virtue.

At Damen Jackson, we are here to be your business partner, your conscience, your extended team. We are never afraid to be challenged, or to respond to tough questions. We are in it for the long haul.  

Let’s get some great work done!

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