How to Create Fresh Starts for Your Team: Lessons from Back to School Season

Back to Work photos aren't as popular on Facebook 
as the Back to School counterparts. But should they
be? Read on to consider how you can have a fresh
start this post-summer season.  
If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, then today you're witnessing a deluge of Back to School photos: back-pack wearing kids, scrubbed clean and in their best new t-shirts, alternately grinning or scowling for the camera.

Having now been in the workforce for twice (maybe three times) as long as those kids have been alive, I'm envious of the annual fresh start they get each new school year. Starting a new grade of school gives you a reminder of what you've accomplished in the past, a chance at a clean slate, and an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Work rarely offers these milestones - certainly not in any annual, smile-for-the-camera sort of celebration.

Since there's no annual reason for celebration, values-driven leaders have to create them. The day after Labor Day (when summer has officially come to a close and vacations are over) offers a chance to push the reset button, giving your team a mini fresh start.

Put these ideas into practice today, or at any point throughout the year. You may not want to post a photo on Facebook, but your team will appreciate the acknowledgement just the same.

1. Celebrate milestones and accomplishments. 
Celebrating wins is foundational to good leadership. It gives you an opportunity to publicly (or privately) recognize hard work and success. Praise the effort of your team members as much as you praise the results. Mark the completion of projects and initiatives, and the anniversary of start dates or promotions as well.

Everyone has their own method of feeling accomplishment. For me, I keep a hand written to-do list of priority projects. When one is completed, I use a thick black Sharpie marker to cross through the item. Doing so gives me a modest sense of joy: I've accomplished something that day. As a leader, help your team joyfully "cross off" that item from your shared to-do lists.

2. Offer a clean slate. 
Part of what makes "Back to School" so meaningful is the chance to start over with fresh notebooks, empty folders, and no negative marks in the grade book.

This concept can transfer to the workplace in a variety of ways: posting new goals on the walls of your shared office space; through private conversations, offering a struggling employee a chance at a fresh start; removing clutter in common areas; or using a staff meeting to set new objectives or work practices. Clean slates don't have to be dramatic, but they do have to be acknowledged.

3. Reinvent yourself, and make it possible for others to do the same.
New teachers and new classmates makes reinventing yourself possible for students. It's harder in the workforce where your colleagues, leaders, and employees have not changed. But it's still possible.

One CEO I work with determined he wanted to be less angry and more approachable. He could have set this goal privately and made quiet, personal efforts to reach it. But he knew accountability would be important, so he declared the goal publicly and asked his staff to (respectfully) call him on violations.

Could you do the same? Maybe you want to be more responsive to messages from your staff, learn a new technical skill, or be better at listening. Whatever your intention is, publicly state it to your team, your executives, or a small circle of trusted colleagues. Then ask for their support. Ask those you lead to set intentions, and offer your support for their growth.

How do you create fresh starts for your team? Share your ideas here, or on Twitter (tag us, @ValuesDriven).
Amber Johnson is the CVDL's corporate relations advisor and a non-profit and small business communications specialist.

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