If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else. – Yogi Berra
It’s a new year and a fresh start for you and your team. It’s also one of the most important times for you as a leader. While it’s fun reminiscing about 2014, it’s critical that you quickly align your leadership team and total organization to focus on the goals for 2015.
Having a clear, concise, well-communicated set of goals for your organization has many benefits:
- It aligns the team at all levels
- It focuses the team on the right priorities
- It sets the benchmark to measure performance
- It can be used to establish incentives and drive behavior
- It defines what success looks like in the new year
The problem is that most companies fail to focus on a clear set of goals for the year. David Leonard and Claude Coltea wrote in a recent Gallup article that, “The problem is that in too many companies, front-line employees receive dozens of high-priority messages — some complementary, some competing — from executives, managers, and change leaders each day. These conflicting messages make it difficult for workers to know what tasks or metrics they should focus on during a given day.” This lack of focus creates confusion, added expense, and waste in any organization. This is why annual business planning is extremely important for every organization.
You might be thinking that it’s too late to conduct your planning session for the new year, but it’s actually the perfect time. I like to conduct my annual planning session right after the financial and operational metrics are finalized for the year, usually in mid January. Knowing the final numbers creates the perfect foundation for the planning session. The mid January timing is also good because, at this point, budgets are finalized, top down goals have been established, and mandated programs have already been made known.
The annual planning session is critical in developing a clear and concise set of goals for the new year. Ideally, it can be done in one day and I prefer to go off-site to minimize the disruptions. The session has ten easy steps:
- Review last year’s financial performance compared to budget
- Review last year’s key metrics compared to goals
- Review last year’s key initiatives compared to goals
- Conduct an honest assessment of the prior year: What went well? What went wrong? What do you need to more of? What do you need to improve on? What were some of the key lessons from the prior year?
- Review the new year’s financial budget and establish stretch targets. Build basic waterfall charts for order and profit growth to reach the stretch objectives
- Review any new mandated metrics and initiatives
- Develop the new year’s key metric goals
- Develop the new year’s list of key initiatives
- Get commitment from team
- Develop a one-page list of the new year’s goals– Key Financials, Key Metrics, and Key Initiatives to send to the leadership team
The discussions and debates during this process helps build consensus of the key lessons of the prior year as well as an agreement on the way forward in the new year. Being able to debate these issues increases the level of buy-in from team members as well.
The final output, a one-page list of the new year’s goals, becomes the guiding document for the new year. It is important this document is cascaded throughout the entire organization with front-line managers explaining the importance of each element in the plan. If done properly, you will quickly align your leadership team and total organization to focus on the goals for 2015.