Looking Back, Looking Forward

By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner

It’s that time of year when many of us think about 2020. What will we do to make ourselves better, or improve our quality of life, or help our community, or make the world a better place?

As you look forward to 2020, do not just think about the coming year. Think about the past year also. What went right? What did not go right? Very often we fail to look backward when we begin to look forward.

As I pondered my own “next year”, I remembered many things I learned in my years with the firm. And, during this past year, many of you have reminded me of what we learned together while working at Arthur Andersen. I hope some of these thoughts will encourage you as you consider what you will do to move forward into the next year.

Stewardship – First and foremost is the concept of stewardship. As I have stated before, one of my earliest memories of the firm was a conversation I had with a partner who recruited me. Interestingly, it was also part of the opening conversation I had with another partner on my first day with the firm. Both similarly defined stewardship as your responsibility to make the workplace a better place for those who will follow, as those who preceded you made it a better place for you. Whether your forward-looking plans relate to your family, your business, your neighborhood, your community, your country or your world, resolve that your future behavior will make things better for those around you. Follow the example of those who preceded you and set a similar path.

Quality – A commitment to stewardship goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to quality. Whatever you resolve to do in the next year, resolve to do it with the highest level of quality you can muster. If you attempt to accomplish a goal by skimming around the edges or by compromising yourself or others in the process, you will not build a quality product or service or live a quality life. If you don’t commit to delivering the best product, service or action you can deliver, you are cheating yourself and others. You are not being a good steward. If you are going to do something, strive to do it well and to the best of your ability.

Simplicity – The K.I.S.S. principle is one I believe in and one we learned many times over while working together. Don’t over-complicate or over-analyze matters as you are planning your resolutions for the future. Consider those relevant facts that you can gather in a reasonable time frame to build your plan and begin to execute it. Remember that any plan is only valid until you begin to execute against it.

Change – Recognize that you have to—change, that is. It is inevitable. It welcomes us every day of our lives in some form or the other. I am sure you have heard variations of this theme: When it comes to change, there are different kinds of people—those who initiate change and make things happen, those who accept change and deal with what happens and those who ignore change and wonder what happened. We are all not change-initiators, but don’t be a change-ignorer. No matter what your goal or resolution is for the next year, recognize that you must change some current behavior in order to achieve it. Remember, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is somebody’s definition of insanity.

Plan – In order to change our behavior, or to accomplish a new resolution, we need a plan. I am not a great planner. But as someone who, hopefully, has learned from many of my mistakes, I know that in order to accomplish something new, I have to have a plan. I will not give you a detailed methodology for planning. Each of you has had experience with numerous, different planning processes. Just pick one that suits you and get to it. Naturally, it should include a timeline and specific goals. Develop your own method of tracking your progress against the plan. There are plenty of tools and sources you can use to develop your own tracking system. Create a self-monitoring system—check it regularly. As you make progress with your plan, reward yourself for your periodic accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to celebrate even the smallest successes. And don’t punish yourself if you don’t meet a goal. Just evaluate the situation and re-set them. Remember, the K.I.S.S. approach applies here also.

History – “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” is a version of a quote most often attributed to writer and philosopher George Santayana. As we develop and implement our plan, we must remember what has worked for us in the past and what has not. What did we do right? What did we do wrong? What worked? What didn’t work? These are all questions we should consider as we set our goals and build our plan. Of course we must look to the future. And remembering the past does not mean we dwell on it. We should learn from it.

Others – If you are planning for matters related to your professional or work life, naturally you will include others such as peers, your boss, or your subordinates in the process. Your plan in that case will often be driven by, or be a part of, a larger plan in your business. Your part of the plan should fit in with the overall plan of the group or organization. If you are planning a resolution that affects your personal life, don’t forget to include others around you who can help you with the planning, monitoring, celebration and reward processes. Should your plan be shared with your spouse, your children, a friend, a colleague? Is there someone you trust with whom you can discuss your accomplishments and your failures? Include those persons in your process.

Think Straight. Talk Straight. -- I can’t leave a subject like this without reminding you of this belief. It is especially important when setting your own resolve to change or improve. Be honest with yourself. Gather appropriate facts about what you can and should hope to accomplish in your future resolutions or plan. Be fair with yourself in assessing your accomplishments. If you fail in some aspect of your implementation, recognize it in a timely fashion and recalibrate your goals as necessary. Challenge yourself, stretch yourself but don’t diminish yourself if you don’t reach your goals.

In developing this piece, I found an interesting quote from an unexpected source that I will share with you in closing: “I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” It came from Jimmy Dean, American country music, television host, actor, and businessman.

Thank you for reading and as always, I am interested in your thoughts and perspectives. I would especially like to learn about things that have worked for you as you looked back and looked forward. Feel free to write me at ed@thinkstraighttalkstraight.com.

And if you are interested in some of my other ideas, you can find them on Amazon at Think Straight. Talk Straight.: Ed Maier: 9780960036509: Amazon.com: Books .