Employees Come Up With Some of Their Best Ideas During a Holiday Break. Here's How to Harness That Energy to Kick Off 2024. An executive coach's guide to help leaders build on the transformational ideas that can arise during downtime.

By Caroline Stokes

Key Takeaways

  • Holiday reflections can lead to transformative ideas for business growth and should be actively encouraged and explored by leadership.
  • Engaging employees in collective intelligence exercises and self-evaluation promotes ownership and combats learned helplessness, boosting productivity and engagement.
  • Outlining a clear leadership vision and goals early in the year motivates teams and aligns efforts towards impactful and measurable outcomes.
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As you return to work after the holidays, you, your direct reports and various stakeholders likely had time for reflection over the break. Hopefully, you'll all have had an opportunity to understand what you do and don't want for the year ahead and might have even come up with productive or growth-oriented ideas for the business.

To get the year off to a strong start and solve the human energy crisis, it helps to socialize and mobilize thoughts, ideas and questions in a structured way, building on the positive momentum that inspired employees during the holidays.

The alternative is that ideas your employees consciously or unconsciously nurtured over the quiet period of psychological distance will remain just that — an idea. If ideas are left without exploration by the leader, it can result in learned helplessness and employee disengagement.

Related: 3 Bad Leadership Habits to Leave Behind This Year

A cautionary tale

Some of the best career decisions are made on a beach.

This is what I found after returning from a vacation in January 2013. I came back eager to share some new ideas with my business partner. I was intellectually and emotionally connected to these ideas, but they were dismissed with a "send it to me in an email," which I decoded as "I'm not interested."

I noticed discontent and a growing disconnection from my work and its mission. It was as if my ship had been set one degree off course from that of my business partner, and after just six months, we were each in different parts of the world. I left that year to start my own company and wrote Elephants Before Unicorns to help organizations leverage talent attraction, retention and engagement in the AI age.

That's how downtime transforms people. I've seen it over and over again with my clients. From my experience, holiday contemplation time breeds the occasional life-changing eureka moment or inspires new solutions to problems that only distance can bring to advance a company's strategy. This longitudinal study on the relationship between vacation and creativity had similar findings.

Related: How Agility and Resiliency Help Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Succeed

Welcome fresh ideas for growth

Harnessing employees' post-holiday insights through collective intelligence exercises facilitated by the leader may positively impact many critical indicators in work-life balance, engagement and performance reviews. This is because leadership actively listens and executes solutions to challenges that may have previously stifled productivity, performance and engagement.

Everyone comes into the office every day wanting to do their best work. They all have a challenge that gets in their way of progress. Following the collective pause of psychological distance, people have an annual opportunity to come together and share what reflections can advance their work.

Invite to action:

Start by inviting your team to gather and share their favorite idea to solve some of the challenges they anticipate in the coming year.

Hire a facilitator to lead the group, or ask your team to take turns facilitating so everyone feels involved in the solution.

The group should come away with three actions to which the team will commit. Consider reviewing every month to assess progress and blockages. Further tweak the solution to foster a deeper sense of ownership, commitment and resilience to evolve or close the issue.

Related: 3 Ways to Help Employees Get Back to Work After the Holidays

Encourage self-evaluation

Ask employees to conduct a post-mortem for 2023 and a pre-mortem for 2024 through a series of explorative and reflective questions. Leaders and their teams blend current accomplishments with milestone objectives for the new year. It requires solid self-evaluation to understand how and where you can grow as a leader and contributor to the organization's mission.

Invite to action:

Start by inviting your team to reflect on and answer these questions:

  • What were you proud of in 2023?
  • What went better than expected?
  • What were you less pleased with?
  • What did you want more of?
  • What did you want less of?
  • What impacted your performance?
  • What skills and talents would you like to utilize that you haven't tried yet?
  • What opportunities would you have wanted to do your best work?
  • On a scale of 1-10, what impact do you think you had last year? Explore why you chose that number and what would have made it an 8, 9 or 10.
  • Fast-forward to the end of this quarter or year, and ask yourself: What would it take to get an 8, 9 or 10 in impact this coming year? What support do you need to get there?
  • What would make this a fulfilling year?

Ask your employees to bring this outline to your next 1:1 to co-create a plan to engage them and sustain growth and potential. Many people don't know their career goals, and self-reflection exercises prompt them to think about it. In addition, the leader and the employee can notice their strengths and interests, and it may be possible to assign projects or work that will create more meaning for them and better outcomes for the business.

Related: 3 Mistakes You May Not Realize You're Making When Bringing Employees Back to the Office

Outline your leadership vision early

Nothing feels more demotivating to your team in the first week back to work than to hear words like "We're doing the same thing as we did last year." Your team seeks leadership and direction on the new reality and goals alongside current and future challenges. The mission may have changed to reflect new key performance indicators. Some may be stuck in previous constructs, and others may have a future bent. These variables require the leader to craft a narrative or vision for his team.

Invite to action:

Try rolling into the new year with clarity on your organization's deliverables. Shape more controllable, relatable and measurable outcomes by thoughtfully answering the following:

  • What are my organization's top 3 business goals this year?
  • What accomplishments will the organization celebrate at the end of 2024?
  • How am I responsible for delivering these accomplishments?
  • Who are my stakeholders to deliver these goals?
  • What do I want to achieve in my career this year?
  • Where's the gap in my skills to achieve this? Or, what leadership development opportunities do I need to help deliver these goals?
  • How do I want my leadership style to evolve? Who can help me get there?
  • How is my leadership adapting to encourage generational and neurodiverse growth and harmony?
  • Where do my organization's AI and ESG strategies play into my team's focus, skills and deliverables?
  • Who is on my board of directors to help realize my vision?
  • How do I factor my stakeholders and geopolitical forces into my 1:1s? Who do I need to meet with to ensure I make those activities happen? What must I try? What workarounds should I explore?
  • How do these goals and accomplishments align with the rest of the organization and stakeholders? What is missing? What needs further influencing or investment?

Starting the year with clarity and intention will give everyone a shared purpose and momentum. Be sure to review progress in two months so you can reset expectations and mindsets if needed and ensure everyone is sailing in the same direction together.

Related: What Is Quitter's Day? If You Make It Through This January Milestone, You Might Actually Keep Your New Year's Resolutions in 2024.

Caroline Stokes

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Author, Executive Leadership Development Coach, Facilitator

Caroline Stokes is CEO of FORWARD and author of Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent HR Strategies To Save Your Company

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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