Here we are - the beginning of a new year. Chances are, you invested the time and resources into an annual planning session. What do you have to show for it? How can you make sure that this time next year you are celebrating the fact that you’ve achieved your goals, and not just dusting off a binder or searching for a Powerpoint file thinking “shoot - we didn’t get any of this done!”?
At Rhythm Systems, we’ve seen thousands of initiatives completed successfully, and we’ve learned some patterns for success and failure for annual plans.
5 Common Reasons Annual Plans Fail
- Lack of clarity and specificity in your plan. Let me give you an example here. Let’s say that you want to launch a new product line in 2017. Everyone in the meeting agrees that this is a wonderful idea! The head of marketing leaves and immediately calls his team together - “Stop what you’re doing - we’re launching a new product line and we need all our resources on this now!” The CFO budgets to make at least $10M from the new product this year - “Nice, we can approve those new hire requests now.” And, the head of product development leaves thinking his team will just put together a few mock up versions of something new to present at next year’s annual planning meeting - easy, peasy. Whoa! We can see that this team was not aligned at all, and it’s easy to see how resources will be wasted and the project won’t get done.
- Failure to gain support from key team members. We’ve all been in meetings where there is heated discussion about what should be done. Everyone presents a passionate argument for their side, but eventually one side wins out - maybe the CEO puts her foot down and says, “This is what we’re doing this year.” Maybe that’s her right, but how does that feel to the others in the room? What’s the likelihood that those passionate champions of another way will go out and give the CEO’s plan all they’ve got? While they probably won’t actively sabotage her plan, they also probably won’t go out of their way to make sure it is successful.
- Lack of communication. Once you’ve got the plan in place, do you take that critical next step of sharing it with everyone in your company? Do the people on the front lines, the ones interacting with your products and customers on a daily basis, know what the key goals are for the year? Do they know how they can help? If you keep your plan a secret, then how can you possibly succeed?
- No rhythm of quarterly planning. Some companies only meet once a year to set strategic initiatives. We find that annual planning, though it is critical, is not enough. Don’t try to plan detailed execution for an entire year (see “Life happens” below), or just paint broad strokes and hope that the execution just “happens.” Neither will be effective.
- Life happens. Even the most perfectly crafted, broadly supported, clearly communicated plan will face obstacles. You never know what can happen - the economy fluctuates, competitors come and go, government or industry regulations change overnight, phenomenal opportunities drop in your lap. And, then, the best-laid plans can go out the window through no fault of your own.
If any of these common pitfalls sound familiar, don’t worry! It is not too late to get back on track to achieve your important annual initiatives.
6 Tips to Make this Year Different
- Assign an owner and set clear Red-Yellow-Green success criteria for every initiative on your annual plan. This way, there’s no confusion about what needs to be done, what success looks like, and who is accountable for achieving it. Even if it is a team effort that will take contributions from everyone in the company, you need one person accountable for driving it forward. And, everyone involved needs to have a clear and common understanding of your goal.
- Use an experienced facilitator. It might be too late for some of you for this year, but if you find that you suffer from heated disagreements or lack of support for your key annual initiatives, you might consider bringing in an experienced facilitator for your next session. This person can help you discuss, debate, and agree on those initiatives in a way that each person feels heard and validated and leaves the meeting able to support and advance a plan, even if it was not his/her own.
- Get everyone in the company involved. People want to be connected to the purpose of the company; give them a way to get excited about achieving your annual plan. Have a town hall meeting or a webinar to share the vision for the year - inspire them to get involved, and ask “What can I do to help?”
- Run a 13-Week Race. Meet every quarter to review your progress toward your annual goals and set a new focus for the next 13-weeks. Break your big annual initiatives down into more manageable 13-week priorities. Use the annual plan as your roadmap to your final destination, but feel free to make adjustments in your route to account for changes in your circumstances.
- Have Weekly Adjustment Meetings. This is where the rubber meets the road in executing your plan. Meet every week, not to update each other on your status, but to work together on solutions when the plan is in danger of getting off track. Be disciplined, hold yourselves accountable, and do the work together to reach your quarterly and annual goals.
- Celebrate your success! At the end of this year, reward yourself and your team for putting in the hard work and having the discipline to reach new heights rather than settling for another year where those great ideas and brilliant plans go to waste.
Good luck and go for it! Make this a great year for your company!
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