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The July Factor

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A few weeks ago I wrote a check for the first time in a long time. It felt almost foreign because it has been so long since I’ve done that. I stared at it and had to think about what I needed to do to fill it out. First the payee, then the amount, and then the date.

As I filled in the date, I wrote 7 for the month and my heart skipped a beat. 7…July…wow. If you are anything like me, January happened a few weeks ago, you can’t remember much about February, and the rest just seems like a blur.

Every year July strikes me as a kind of monumental month. While it’s not only the first time that the year is more than halfway over, it also seems to mark the start of what will inevitably be a fast and furious sprint to the end of December. August will come and vacations will abound when it’s hard to focus and everyone is looking for any excuse to get out of the office and do something “summer-ish”.

September is the month the chickens come home to roost when school starts back up again, and then October, November, and December seem to happen all at once. This is why July feels like the beginning of the end of the year for me, and it always gives me the opportunity to reflect on the things I needed to accomplish in the year and take inventory of how I’m really doing.

For those of you who know me, you probably know that I am not a big fan of goals. I feel like, far too often, goals are simply wishes that we rebrand because it feels funny to sit down in January and write a list of wishes.

Unfortunately, we don’t often treat our goals much different from our childhood wishes. All of us can probably remember a time in our youth when we really wanted something and wished for it—in a letter to Santa, or just a backyard “wish upon a shooting star”. But then we went back to playing outside, or whatever it was that we were doing. We may have hoped, thought about, and wished our little hearts out, but that was where it stopped.

The July Factor

 
Goals—much like wishes—often fall into that same category, and I think that’s why they’re often troublesome for businesses.

Early in my career, I tripped and fell into a job that was, in retrospect, far beyond my experience. I had nearly 1000 employees that were accountable to me and I spent much of my days meeting with those who wanted to grow in their respective positions. I was working in the real estate field and many of them were realtors. They would come in and sit down, we would discuss their experiences and what they had accomplished in the last year, and then we’d talk about their goals. Inevitably, these goals were always hefty, and they were often many times what had been produced the previous year.

That notwithstanding, most people were animated, passionate, and full of excitement as they looked toward the future. You could see in their eyes that they truly wanted more and that they could imagine—even taste—what life was going to be like once they achieved their objectives.

Once they had laid out their goals, I would ask one simple question: “How are you going to accomplish that?”

This question changed the tone of the meeting. Many answered: “I don't know, that’s why I am here.” Some had ideas and vision of how to start down their desired path, but no one ever—not once—had a plan of how they were going to actually reach their goals.

For the remainder of the meeting, we would discuss how to go from where they were to where they wanted to be. I would lay out a plan that would help them grow, and my mission was to create actionable steps, things they could take from that meeting and start doing that very day. I wanted them to have a clear path that would lead them to fulfilling the vision they were so passionate about.

At the end of our time together, I’d always set up a 90-day follow-up meeting. They’d leave feeling enthusiastic and empowered, ready to take on the world. Not only could they see the goal, they had a roadmap of how to get there.

90 days later we would reconvene, and can you guess what had happened? 9 out of 10 of the people that I met with had done…wait for it…nothing. They went home and woke up the next day and did exactly what they had always done. They did what they were comfortable doing, they accomplished what they had always accomplished, and the reasons were almost always the same. “I was busy,” “It was hard,” and “I just didn't get around to it”—in some form or another—were always at the top of the list.

At first, I was a bit shocked by it. In one particular case that has stuck with me, I remember sitting across the table from a gentleman who was a really wonderful man. During the follow-up meeting, he talked about how much he wanted to accomplish his goals and how much it would mean to his family. He mentioned his desire to send his kids to nice schools and said that his family had outgrown their house.

He went on and on about how much he wanted what we had discussed. When I asked him about the plan we’d put in place, he said he’d done it for a week, but it was hard, and he got busy, and ultimately? He went back to doing what he had always done. But I was struck by one observation: right after making his long list of reasons why he hadn't done anything different, he went right back into how much he wanted to be successful. I thought about that meeting for a long time. It haunted my thoughts and I wondered why someone who wanted something so much could fall so short when it came to execution. Then, a few years later in July, as I sat looking at my “goals” for the year, I realized I was that guy.

I, too, had set lofty goals for myself. I, too, had gone to work to accomplish them and then got sidetracked, distracted, and off course when it came to implementing meaningful change. I, too, had bought into a system that was much more like writing letters to Santa than actually moving both my personal and business objectives forward.

The July Factor

 
You see, our goals, without an implemented plan, are not goals; they are wishes. If I want to lose weight, the act of writing it down and putting it somewhere safe and pulling it out 7 months later doesn’t actually do anything to help me. I have to make different decisions, I have to take action, I have to DO something. The first day that I go to the gym, it probably won’t fit into my schedule.

Let’s face it: if it did, it probably wouldn’t have been on my “goals” list. The day after I go, there will inevitably be pain, and I’ll likely have tons of reasons coursing through my head justifying not going back again…ever. But if my plan is more than a wish, I have to go back, I have to eat salad, and I have to walk more and eat less ice cream. It’s just the nature of the beast.

That same beast rears its ugly head in our businesses. If I want to grow my business, if I want to sell more charters, if I want to start a line run, if I want to…fill in the blank, I must DO something. Having traveled to all but 3 states in the union meeting with many of North America’s motorcoach operators, I have seen these same troublesome patterns repeat themselves in this industry. In many of my presentations, I ask those present if they’d like to grow their businesses over the next 12 months. Almost without exception, everyone in the room raises their hand. This isn't surprising; they are attending a marketing meeting, after all. After the presentations, people are always enthusiastic about getting to work and they leave feeling empowered to do something different than what they’ve done in the past. The next time I see them, often a full year later, guess how many have actually DONE something different? Fewer than you would think.

I like to say that in order to convert a wish into a goal, you only need one ingredient: execution. In my real estate days, the people that had made real changes in 90 days were those who had put their plans into action, and they saw major changes in their businesses as a result. They were walking the path and seeing their goals getting closer and closer. Most of these people had not executed the entire plan we had discussed, but they’d executed something consistently. They had stretched themselves and DONE something—not once, or a few times over a few weeks, but they’d actually made it a part of their day-to-day business.

In the motorcoach industry, time is probably the most scarce and valuable commodity. While our goals are important and growth is what we wish for, these “goals” seem to always fall prey to the operational constraints of the day. Busy days turn into busy months, and the next thing you know, it’s July and you’re writing 7 on the top of a check.

The challenge I have for you is to go back through your list of goals for the year. Look at each of them and determine which ones you’re comfortable leaving as wishes. Then, find the things on your list that are more than wishes to you—the ones that would transform your company, give you more time, or help you reach your financial goals. Once you identify those, I challenge you to decide that half a year is long enough to have waited. Pick something, anything, and decide that yesterday was the last day you will ever not be moving that goal forward.

Moving goals from the “wish” category to the “doing it now” category is a powerful thing. Not only do you feel great about it, you also start seeing results. Remember that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and this is as true in the marketing world as it is in the physical world. Do something constantly and watch as the reaction happens. Refine what you do until the reaction is exactly what you want and need to reach those most important goals. And, if you need help, we’re here!

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