This time of year is traditionally one for self-reflection and resolving to make changes or improvements. Many of us set ourselves goals or promise to do something specific - give up smoking, lose a stone in weight, go to the gym 3 times a week. My issue with this is that, while goal setting can be useful, New Year resolutions can be far too big to realistically be accomplished.

With an idea stolen from a friend, for the last few years I have instead approached each New Year with a word of the year. So more of an intention or guiding principle, rather than a list of rigid challenging resolutions that I am likely to fail at. Having a word of the year provides a focus to set intentions or a reminder of the positive difference I want to make even when times are challenging. This year I have chosen balance. Nothing revolutionary. Balance is essential for a healthy mind, work performance and quality of life. It’s not about spinning multiple plates and never letting anything drop. There are many circumstances that make achieving this impossible or a luxury to a few. Balance is about not setting unrealistic expectations on yourself or others.

How do we balance the desire for innovation & new capabilities without overwhelming the experience or losing sight of the outcome? How do we embrace change without fear?

This year, like most years and most people I have a lot on. I am looking forward to rising to the challenge of my new job role, empowering my team and colleagues to achieve our product vision and goals, navigating teenagers through GCSE’s , planning a wedding and resuming pre-pandemic levels of seeing friends and family. Balance is what I am going to need to keep it all together, not the endless search for perfection. Doing my best, prioritising what I need to when I need to and adjusting when, inevitably, things don’t go to plan…that’s the theory anyway. And if, or rather when, something starts feeling too much, I will come back to my intention and do what I can to get a better balance.

Keep it simple

There are so many other words that I could have chosen - resilience, courage or reflect - but the closest other word to making the cut was simplify. Whilst balance just edged it for me, this is one that I think would resonate with so many people personally and professionally. It allows that thinking time to prioritise what’s important. Simplify an approach and simplify your goals to allow you to focus on the outcomes. It’s a way to make decisions when change seems overwhelming, and to strip out the noise and zone in on the things that really matter.

This guiding principle easily extends to technology. How do we balance (there it is again) the desire for innovation & new capabilities without overwhelming the experience or losing sight of the outcome? How do we embrace change without fear? How do we make decisions when there is information overload or too many choices?

While it’s a deceptively simple answer, a sense of balance can help to clarify this. Taking automation as an example, it’s tempting to want to go as far as possible down this road, almost eliminating the need to do anything manually. But is this sensible? How much of the nuance of human decision making is lost when it’s all “computer says no”? And where is the room for the huge value brokers bring to the advice market? The question must also be asked whether full automation always benefits the customer. Allowing the customer to complete online forms, for example, can bring significant benefits to the customer and the adviser as long as it's not just shifting the inefficiency from one area to another. It’s essential to find a way for automation to relieve the pressure from the entire experience, not just relocate it.

It’s here that simplicity can also play a part. Processes are, by their nature, constantly evolving. Because of this, with each process evolution more inefficiencies can be built in which over time can result in something that’s rather tricky to untangle. Whilst it can be tempting to try to cure the symptoms, looking at the root of the inefficiency should provide the solution. Clearly it’s not possible to fix everything, but balance and simplicity should help inform which things are the most beneficial to focus on.

In life and in business, we can experience decision paralysis or feel it safer to stick with what you have always done. By setting an intention about what you want to achieve or the positive outcome you are looking for you might be able to visualise where you want to be, how you want to operate and how you are going to get there.

What's your word of the year?