Q4 Navigator’s Guide: Sailing Smoothly through the Busiest Season
By Cara Sloman, Force4 Technology Communications
For many organizations, the final quarter of the year marks the end of the fiscal year. Not only does this mean reporting quarterly earnings, but many also will be publishing year-end financials with the annual report and financial overview. Throw in the year-end sales surge, multiple holidays and planning for next year, and Q4 becomes an exceptionally challenging time for many!
When it’s Q4 crunch time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But, by prioritizing your leadership angle, emphasizing employee success and fine-tuning your customer engagement, Q4 can be just as successful as quarters before, if not more so.
Navigating Q4 Successfully: Leadership and Alignment
Taking extra time during this quarter to set goals with your staff and really listen to them can go a long way. Inundating people with too many big initiatives will breed confusion when you’re trying to meet goals that were established at the beginning of the year.
A better approach during Q4 is breaking things down into manageable pieces; go for quick wins over short periods of time. This will foster more success and engagement from the team. Here’s a relatable example, since we’re getting close to the holidays.
Goal: Cook the holiday dinner and have it ready to eat at 4:00 pm
Break it down into a series of actionable steps by looking at what needs to happen to achieve this goal:
- What dishes am I making?
- How many people are coming?
- What groceries do I need to buy?
- What can I do in advance?
- When do I need to start?
To pull this off, ideally you have a schedule plotted out to know what to work on and when. If the day arrives and you haven’t taken time to organize the details, your cooking experience is likely to be a lot more stressful. You need to take time to look at your goal and split it up into smaller goals that you can accomplish along the way to meeting your big goal.
You also need strategies for aligning operations and resources for Q4 success. The best way to overcome Q4 chaos is to organize to-dos into tactical, manageable parts. Use task management programs to set each week up for success and divvy up large deliverables into equally manageable parts throughout the week to reduce burnout. Provide training and resources to prepare staff for increased demand and find out when your core team will be on PTO so you can arrange for extra help during that time.
Get Real with Employees
There are common mistakes and pitfalls that businesses encounter in Q4. One of them is not being clear on expectations and goals. During the holidays, taking time to set goals helps employees feel heard, develop personally, and align with the organization’s overall goals. When your team feels empowered and not overwhelmed, customer service and the customer experience are usually dramatically better.
Another common mistake is not addressing the chaos. At Force4, we talk about the “anxiety curve.” Having measured the anxiety level of our clients, business development and account teams over the past decade and beyond, we’ve observed noticeable trends that can help provide context during the roller coaster of Q4. We’ve developed specific strategies over the years to mitigate stress and decrease the fire drills to help people stay on track.
To mitigate or avoid these challenges, lead by example. One example is maintaining balance during Q4. For instance, if employees see you sending emails at 2:00 a.m. or over the weekend, it sends a message that they, too, should burn the midnight oil. There are times when staying late to get the job done is important, but this should be the exception, not the norm. And celebrate the successes, even the small ones, and acknowledge your employees for getting the job done.
Remember Your Customers Amid the Madness
Some customers will have their moments of upset, and some will bombard you with challenging questions, while others will just carry on and be their normal, pleasant selves. So, make sure to fortify your team’s sense of client empathy, patience, and consistency. Honing the skills to handle unique personalities and circumstances and provide the guidance, service and support that clients expect from you during the good and challenging times of Q4 is key.
Creating an exemplary customer experience involves navigating a myriad of difficult situations. Listening to your customers’ concerns is a crucial part of this. Sometimes, they’ll be displeased and react emotionally. In this vein, empathy is the answer.
Every customer is different. Especially in the professional services business, ongoing training and coaching on how to handle surprises, sense the customer’s mood and adapt accordingly, and know when to escalate up the chain of command are all important facets to empowering teams to successfully navigate and fortify those important relationships.
Focused on Success
In Q4, businesses are gearing up for their busiest and most crucial period, and strategic planning is essential to successfully navigate it. Your team is what will propel your success during the chaos of Q4. Organizational alignment is key, so define goals and expectations clearly. Maintain team morale with encouragement, reminders about the “anxiety curve” and celebrations of every win. By optimizing resource allocation, aligning teams and setting clear objectives, you’ll be able to steer your organization through the busiest season while staying focused on your Q1 success.