It's Fourth Quarter crunch time, and this is your wake-up call. Yes, all leaders need one right about now, because if there's any time of year when people are in danger of sleepwalking, this is it.

These three months are highly ritualized. Certain things are going to happen whether you like them or not: year-end meetings, planning for next year's projects, 2019 budgets, parties, wrap-ups--you know the drill, because it's the same one as last year. And the year before. For as far back as you can remember.

There's nothing wrong with going with the flow of the season. Ritual can be beautiful, and, truth be told, many of us appreciate and seek out ritual for several purposes.

We've built in fourth-quarter rituals for good reasons, so how can we get the most out of them instead of just snoozing through them for yet another year? 

Ask yourself: Do all the events and meetings planned for the remainder of this year get you somewhere, with purpose attached, or are you just going through the motions in the same old way? Are they so rote by now that you and everyone else can sleepwalk through them?

Now, for that wake-up call: Think of all the things that you are going to be doing in October, November, and December, ritualized or otherwise, and filter them through these possibly crucial attitude adjustments:

Slap the dull but important stuff wide awake.

Ask yourself: How can I ensure that everything we do between now and the end of the year adds meaning and benefit for all stakeholders--leaders and employees alike?

Year-end meetings don't have to be lip service or a veiled self-congratulatory happy time spent lauding what was accomplished during the year. Leadership should definitely acknowledge the positive such as reaching goals, increasing social-media following, reducing turnover, completing projects, and the like. 

But how about also reserving time for employees to express what they felt good about accomplishing, give their impressions of the past year, and present ideas back to leadership about how to make things even better next year?

Budget meetings are of course necessary, but we all know they can be deadly. Since we already know that purpose is a powerful motivator for recruitment, engagement, and retention, especially with millennials, how about reserving some of that budget planning time, say, to form an employee committee to plot a new charitable project for 2019?  

Maximize the fun and interesting parts of company life.

Your company is a community, and it certainly has a culture whether strategically crafted or simply by default. If your employees aren't involved in planning some of the year-end rituals, get them involved. They can help create ways to present, review, and celebrate that are fun and meaningful to them, which--spoiler alert--may not include the holiday buffet in the local country-club dining room where typically all participants, including leaders, sit with their own tribes and eat and drink their way through the party. 

As you allocate resources and assign tasks for 2019, let employees help schedule in special occasions and ways to celebrate the benchmark wins attached to those projects, both large and small.

Put things on the calendar such as outings, one-day classes or workshops, and informal gatherings that will help build and strengthen your work community. That stuff is just as important to employee retention and company unity as your annual budget is to profitability.

Remember, running a business is also about the possibilities, not simply about the obligations.

Minimize the stress from the "supposed to be fun" parts.

As Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas loom, you can--and maybe should--walk away from the cookie baking, the endless rounds of gift exchanging and candy giving and card mailing. You should not walk away from the message of all of these holidays. And that is: sharing, love, and mutual appreciation are the common currency in the workplace. If they aren't in your workplace, there is no better time than this time of year to reorient your outlook and start building that stronger community by getting employees involved.

Use one of those year-end meetings to ask employees for ideas on how to put more purpose into Q4 that they will appreciate. Put that in your Things to Do list, and you are off to a better start to 2019 with that as an accomplishment.

Published on: Oct 12, 2018