I saw a meme today that read: “I have big plans for 2023, all of which require behaviors and a level of commitment that I’ve never demonstrated before in my life.”
It’s so true. Somehow, the imminent rolling of the calendar from one year to the next triggers an annual outburst of optimism.
We know that many of our aspirations are unlikely to be realized, but we rationalize them with “if I don’t dream big, I’ll never get anywhere.”
Sadly, the world of business shows little tolerance for outsized dreams. Reality bites swiftly and deeply, and most of our New Year’s verve is quickly abandoned.
It is, however, possible to harness our appetite for positive change in a more rational and balanced way. I call it the add-drop list.
It’s straightforward to apply, but I’ll walk you through it in four steps. Making a list of things to add. Making a list of things to drop. The secret sauce that makes it an add-drop list. And some pointers on putting it into practice.
Making a list of things to add might sound like the easy part, but you’d be surprised how hard it can be.
Or rather, how easy it can be to follow each idea with “but…” and a reason why that item would never work.
Suspend judgement for half an hour and write a list of all the tactics, topics, and channels you’d add if there were no constraints on your content marketing
My first tip is to suspend judgement for half an hour and write a list of all the tactics, topics, and channels you’d add if there were no constraints on your content marketing efforts.
This is the time to dream big.
Once you’ve allowed creative juices to spill all over the page (or screen), you can go back with a sour candy under your tongue and bring realism to bear.
Trust me, it’s harder to take something off an elegantly compiled list than it is to intercept it between your brain and pen (or keyboard).
If something you’ve listed is impractical—perhaps you lack the resources or in-house skills—ask yourself what the next-size-down equivalent might be that you could attempt.
For example, you might not be able to fund a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl, but perhaps you can afford to run a 30-second ad before the opening keynote at an important industry conference.
Adjust the scale to fit your business situation.
At this stage, assume every item on the list is independent of the others. We will deal with competing priorities in a moment, once you’ve finished dialing things back to a level of ambition with which you’re comfortable.
Next, rank your ideas in the order you want Santa to hear them. Assume that you could be dragged away from his velvet-trousered knee at any moment, so put the most desirable things at the top of your wish list.
Finally, identify items that are mutually exclusive. This might be because they compete for internal resources, or perhaps because they would demand too much of your target audience. Whatever the reason, pick one to keep and cut the one(s) that conflict.
What’s left is a rationalized, prioritized, deconflicted list of all the good stuff you will add in 2023—somehow.
Most likely—and I mean 99.9 percent of the time—what’s left on your add list is still more than you can accomplish within prevailing resource constraints.
I’m willing to bet that something will come up at some point in 2023 and derail even the best thought-out plan.
I’m also not the only person that over-estimates how much I can get done while relying on a group of willing contributors. We all do it.
But, before you sigh and set off to cut more things from your list, there’s an important step to take: Creating a drop list.
Some of the things you’ve done in 2022 aren’t worth repeating or continuing.
We’re too generous with our “but if we give it a chance, I’m sure it will improve” accommodations
Once again, our good nature sticks out its foot and tries to trip us up. We’re too generous with our “but if we give it a chance, I’m sure it will improve” accommodations.
This time, crank judgement up to the max. Be ruthless.
Write a complete list of everything you would drop because you aren’t sure it’s contributing maximum return on the time and resources being invested.
Alright, maybe not that ruthless. Don’t list your entire content marketing program.
It is notoriously difficult to measure how some content marketing tactics are performing—especially ones aimed at prospects early in their buyer’s journey, where they operate stealthily and try their best not to reveal interest in your brand or products.
List the tactics, themes, and channels that you are least certain are contributing to the growth and future success of your business.
Next, prioritize your naughty list so that the items you’d least regret cutting are at the top.
Finally, write next to each item the resources that would be freed up by making the difficult-but-potentially-necessary decision to shut it down.
Voila! A list of resources that can be accessed if needed.
Two or three weeks into each new school year, my kids are given the opportunity to drop a class that they regret picking and replace it with another class, subject to availability.
This is known as Add-Drop week.
The overriding rule is simple: they must add a class for each one they drop. Or, said another way, they must drop a class if they want to add another (although most kids are more interested in dropping subjects than learning them).
If you want to add something, you must almost certainly pick something to drop
A similar principle applies to your content marketing plan. If you want to add something, you must almost certainly pick something to drop.
The exception to this rule is when your budget for the coming year will be significantly greater than the budget you’ve just spent. If that’s true for you, congratulations! However, you should still review the drop list carefully to ensure underperforming tactics and channels are either put on probation or nixed.
For the rest, I recommend the following approach.
Work your way down the add list, accepting ideas into your 2023 plan until about 90 percent of your expected resources are committed.
Here’s my second tip: never commit more than 90 percent of your resources—time, budget, people, equipment, whatever—at the start of a year. Keep a 10 percent wrap around your arm to deal with unforeseen circumstances or, on the brighter side, golden opportunities that pop up along the way.
Then, review the next item on your add list to see which item(s) you would have to implement from your drop list to make the resource equation balance.
Here’s where you earn the big bucks. It’s subjective decision-making time.
Either axe the old item(s) from your 2023 plan and add the new one or declare your add-drop exercise complete.
If you decide to add and drop, repeat the process for the next item on your add list, and continue doing this until you reach the point where no further add-drops are palatable.
Here are a few practical tips for making this happen.
Involve your team, based your decisions on data, take your time, and double-check your math
First, involve your team. Unless you’ve been brought in to rescue the company from a catastrophe, there’s no need for unilateral action. Solicit input for both the add and drop lists, and either test your add-drop selections with the group or involve them in the selection process.
Second, base your decisions on data whenever it’s available. You won’t always have irrefutable numbers on which to make a fully informed decision but calculate before you speculate. Discovering afterwards that you were misinformed and killed a high-performing tactic can be a bitter pill to swallow (or even a career-limiting move).
Third, take your time. These are often significant program changes that will affect the work of others. Think about the impact on those whose 2022 work will be curtailed. Can you transition them to new activities without it seeming negative? Spend time explaining your rationale and enlisting their support in making 2023 an even better year for your team.
Finally, document your assumptions and double check your math—including that 10 percent reserve. Even though you’ve followed a rigorous, objective process, it’s still easy to see the New Year through rose-tinted glasses and believe that more can be achieved with less. Set your team up for success by limiting your plans to what can realistically be achieved using 90 percent of the available resources. By this time next year, you’ll be glad you did.
Alright, you have three weeks to put this into practice. Let’s go add-drop!
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Image credits: Adobe Stock