January! What is it for?
January is a dreadful month. I know many look forward to it, but I don't; Never have, never will. It's the longest month of the year for many who are spent up, fed up and full up, often with a dreadful cold. We've expanded our belts and reduced our bank balance and now everyone is on a diet; miserable faces look over their desks as the challenge of getting back into the groove begins.
As a boss, I never seemed to have a full team around me at this time of the year due to illness, some staying away not to spread infection, others coming in regardless. That said, I always admired those that were sent home than those who never came in at all.
January was also about pouring over budgets. The process that had started as far back as September was nearing completion for a new financial year, which meant a vigorous debate with the chieftains was due. I would liven things up by hiding stuff just to see if the 'finance team at HQ' would discover them. My personal fav' was always a line for 'doughnuts'. I guessed that they wouldn't want to look daft by asking what may appear to be a daft question. It worked. Not once did they ever ask for clarification so we always had £10,000 for emergencies!
Few people succeed running a company that believed a budget was set in stone. How could it be? The budgeting process was a long one so you were often working on old data. You'd be asked to think about a three-year plan which is good to do but it's getting into guesswork and crystal balling. Nevertheless, I understood why a board might want to see how the future might look but few managers have a three-year plan that turned out as predicted. At best, it constantly gave you a guideline, at worst, you became a slave to it.
I hated being asked to prepare a five-year plan. You can have one but they are usually a waste of time. I suspect this often comes from someone at the top who's been to business school and think this is what you do. The reality is very different. You can write down a strategy, you can have a plan of sorts perhaps, an idea maybe of where things might go but I don't put much value on them at all. However, I know people equally or far more successful than me who plan everything; one of my best friends even has a ten-year life plan that he keeps topping up. That's not me. I rate adaptability higher because just like football, so many people have a strategy to do the opposite and, as we have so often seen, regulation and technology can change things dramatically. The only plan I really have is to hire better people than myself and then make sure that they know they matter! In fact, that's a constant daily goal.
Last month, I was asked to speak to a group of students who were planning a career in media. One of them asked me about having a plan to get somewhere. I urged them to, first of all, get as many miles on the clock as possible. To get real-life working experience in live and busy radio or media operations. To listen more than they talk, soak up everything and note down all the things they saw that impressed them. Critically, watch the best do what they do, be more curious, ask questions and ponder about the answers. Those who have often made it have done so first and foremost by hard work. If they don't like people, getting up and getting out and working long hours, they should find another career.
However, and I say this often, we all need mentors. We all need someone we trust who just want us to be the best we can be. I know very popular and incredibly successful people who still have a mentor today.
So while January is a time to think about what you want out of life, it's worth knowing that you don't need a list or any NY resolution to make it in 2018. You just need to be prepared to work hard, to be more curious, to ask more questions and to say yes far more than you say no. Make it a mission to work with people more talented than yourself, get a mentor and smile (a lot). We all love people who want to be here!