Year End

Prepare for 2018 Like a Pro

Year End.jpg

The last few weeks of the year are always interesting productivity and business growing monsters. It’s a balance between enjoying the holiday season, not giving up on your goals and trying to get a hold of people who may or may not be checked out already. What I love most about these few weeks though is that they are great for putting your head down and sprinting towards making good on your 2017. The close second to that is that they are also great times to reflect a bit in your business. 

It’s a great time to be a little honest and a little raw about the level of effort you put into your business this year. In this post I’m going to share with you an outline you can use to review your efforts this year or as an agenda for year end conversations you may be having with your team. 

Before jumping right into the outline I want to share with you a bit of a framework you should follow first if you really plan on getting anything useful out of this reflection exercise. 

Prepare 

This is a big one most businesses owners I talk to just gloss over. They gloss over it because they think that everything they need to think about in terms of what their business did over the course of the year is just floating around in their brain. Wrong. What’s floating around in your brain are the misremembered experiences and perspectives you’ve help through the year that your brain chose to hold on to. It’s your view of your business through either rose colored or excuse tinted lenses. If you’re going to take this reflection seriously you need to have an objective view of what you were or weren’t able to accomplish. So pull out those financials, bank statements, social media dashboards, etc. 

Set the tone 

Sounds simple but it’s important not to skip. You shouldn’t be going into this exercise looking for only the things you did wrong. You want to celebrate the things you did right too! This reflection process should be about identifying where you can continue to grow in your business and how your current capabilities and capacity map against the goals you want to set for yourself in the coming year. 

Review performance expectations

Whether you actively think about it or not as a business owner you have a job description. These are the task, responsibilities and actions towards outcomes you committed to when you started the business. Reviewing the expectations you set for yourself everyday will help to measure your performance against the reality of growing a business. This is where being honest is important because it’s easy to rationalize why something you committed to didn’t get done when you’re the one holding yourself accountable. The real test is being honest about the dedication or commitment you showed up to work everyday with. Again, don’t get bogged down if you had a spell or two of lacking enthusiasm every time you sat at your desk. The entrepreneurial journey is less of a check mark and more of a rollercoaster - it’s about the patterns of activity over time that really matter. 

Notes on goal setting 

There are a million and a half ways to set goals. Finding the one that works for you is important but regardless of what system you use I want to make sure that you are setting goals in targeted areas, that build on your strengths, that develop you as a professional and finally that are aligned with your values. If you’re setting goals that don’t matter to you or that you can’t commit to then it doesn’t matter what’s at the end of that rainbow because you’re never going to get there. They should stretch and challenge you but not be so far out of your abilities or habits that you just chalk them up as a loss subconsciously before you even start. #newyearnewyou

Make sure you schedule time to follow up

It’s unfair to expect that you can do this work now, file it away and just figure that you’re on the right path without checking in at this time next year. My recommendation is to break your goals and plans out by month so that you can check in along the way. It’s ok if your course changes over time because you’ll be actively assessing what’s important to you and your business and what’s not. Following up will help fight the self sabotage (something that I am super guilty of) and help you build momentum as you start to hit benchmarks and see real growth. Plus, you’re executing on one of my favorite sayings of all time - “What gets measured, gets managed”. 

So now that we’ve set the stage below here is some swipe copy you can use to run your year end review conversations. This works as a self reflection exercise as well as a conversation with your contractors, team members or employees. The headings should apply to most people and I’ve added some question primers to help you think through those headings but feel free to add or subject the reflection questions based on what feels right for the body of your work in 2017. 

Agenda for Annual Review

Planning/Teamwork

What did you accomplish? What worked well? What didn’t? 

Attitude Toward Assignments

Where there types of work that you enjoyed more than others? Types of customers? Where your employees or team on board with what was asked of them? Did the work you do feel authentic to you? 

Knowledge of Duties

Did you feel like an expert in your job? Did you have the technical skills to deliver the value you promised to your customers? 

Your Community

How connected were you to the community you serve? What kind of connections did you create? Where did you add value to the networks that you are a part of? 

Working Relationships and Cooperation with Other Personnel

Did you play nice in your sandbox? Where their situations or relationships that could’ve gone better? Did you (and your team) create an experience or environment that encouraged people to do their best work? Do you feel like you managed your time, team or expectations appropriately? 

Operations 

Did you have a system for moving your business forward every week? How did you measure success or growth? Is that a fair way to measure it going forward? If you breakdown your work process are there places where you might be able to delegate or create efficiencies? How much time did you spend working in your business vs. on your business. 

Response to Assignments or Body of Work

Were their projects or works delivered that you weren’t proud of? Were proud of? What went well? What didn’t? 

Conformance to Work Schedules, Assignments and Instructions

Did you deliver on time every time? Were you honest about the time you put into your business this year? Do you plan on working more? Less? How can you work smarter? Did you manage your customers expectations of your work deliverables and timing? 

By the Numbers

What did this years quantitative data look like compared to last years? Are there any patterns of note? How are you going to use what you learned this year for next year’s: budgets, calendars, sales activities, inventory management, content planning, engagement, and other trackable metrics?

Goals for Next Year

What is important to you? What do you care about? What value are you going to deliver to people? How are you going to measure success? How are you going to get people to pay attention to you? 

That's it! 

Keep the notes before the agenda and the agenda in mind when you're thinking about how you're going to prepare for 2018 and you'll be setting yourself up for success because you're doing it from an honest place. There's no worse feeling then looking at the New Year all bright eyed and bushy tailed only to set goals that will doom you from the start. Don't forget to make this process your own. What I've outlined for you here really is the bones of a process. Some of it may not apply to you or your team and that's ok. Just take some time, mentally prepare to be honest and set good goals to help launch you to your next levels of success in 2018!

3 Tips For Better Year-End Strategic Planning

This is a fun time of year for me. This is the time of year when I get to read, talk about and experience the wonders of all kinds of year-end strategic planning (and review) processes. It’s a blast because, for the most part, most people get it terribly wrong. They get it wrong because they follow dated template frameworks that don’t apply to their businesses, seek answers to self-referential questions and spend hours doing something that feels like work but will probably never have any real impact on their business.

My goal in this post is to give you a few quick and dirty concepts you need to consider to get the most out of your strategic planning process this year - hopefully not just a template. So before you tape your over sized Post-It notes to the walls or crack that new box of dry erase markers let’s talk about a few things.

1. Your strategic plan is not your step-by-step how to run your business manual for the next year.

It’s also not a budget. You need to think about strategy more simply and in terms of the choices you need to make that will get your business in front of the people that matter most - your customers. While budgets, cascading goals, benchmarks and actions are important it should all stem from the choices you make about the specific customers you serve and how you will serve them better than anyone else next year.

Take Away: In the strategic planning process don’t let your thought process or conversations go down day-to-day operations rabbit holes. Save the breaking down of specific responsibilities, tasks, benchmarks for later. Use something like the Balanced Scorecard (link takes you to Balance Scorecard website) to help focus on the broader financial, operational, people and customer perspectives.

2. Your strategy (or strategic plan) is not going to be perfect and that’s OK.

You’re strategy can and probably will change over time and that’s a good thing. You’re eye on the prize needs to revolve around revenue (not just controlling costs) and your customers. You want your business to be able to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of your market while honoring your vision. That means there’s always going to be a little bit of uncertainty in your planning. Give yourself permission to be OK with uncertainty as long as you’re setting up benchmarks along the way to test your strategy assumptions about your customers and the market you’re serving. If you were as addicted to Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” as I was you’d know one of the things he commented on most was the inability of restaurateurs to update their menus. So, to quote Chef Ramsay, don’t be an “idiot sandwich” and shoot for less-than-perfect.

Take Away: Don’t fight over what you can’t predict. If you run into spots where assumptions feel murky because they are based on future outcomes then you should set up times to revisit in the follow up in the next weeks/months/quarters. Conversations about what you can’t control can be draining and detract from the process.

3. Start quantifying.

Getting to the heart of making good decisions means getting to the heart of the data in your business. I’m sure (hoping really) that you had goals set for yourself through this past year. List them out and how close you were/are to achieving them. What do your sales figures look like? How big is your market? What are your margins? Who are your best customers and how many of them did you serve? When going through the strategic planning process it’s easy to get distracted by the big broad brushstroke topics. It’s easy to set goals of just “doing more” of certain activities in the next year. What’s hard is getting to the nitty gritty of your business. It’s getting real about what worked and what didn’t in a quantitative way and being honest about how you spent your time/resources/money this year. No one likes to admit to making bad choices or mistakes but you need to get real about where you are now if you’re going to give yourself a fighting chance to get better. Remember, when it comes to data and planning - garbage in = garbage out.

Take Away: Have the data of your business ready before you go into the strategic planning process. Spend some time getting re-acquainted with what’s going on in your business. This is more than just running some blanket financial statements. Look back at what you decided were key performance indicators in the past and, as honestly as possible, figure out where you stand today.

Whatever your strategic planning process looks like it’s my hope that you think about the three concepts I’ve listed above. At the heart of this process you’re announcing what’s important to your business and customers, setting goals and priorities and trickling that information down into the eventual actions and benchmarks your business needs to take to be successful. Please don’t just use some generic out of the box framework because it feels easy. Make sure the frameworks and tools you choose are relevant and will authentically support your business.