One of the biggest differentiators between companies that stay small and companies that get BIG is having an effective Annual Planning Process. In this three-part series, I explain how to prepare for, execute, and follow through on the meeting that sets the agenda for your company’s whole year, whether you’re conducting it in person or online.
In Part I, I emphasized the importance of organized, thoughtful prework. Have your leadership team answer a series of questions that form the blueprint for your upcoming meeting. Don’t let COVID-19 dominate the discussion. And hire a third-party facilitator — ideally your CEO coach.
In Part II, I highlighted the best practices that we deploy to execute an effective annual planning session. You’ll develop your Huge, Outrageous Targets (HOTs), the steps you’ll need to take to hit them, and assign clear lines of responsibility and accountability.
The hardest part of the annual planning session isn’t the planning session. It’s the follow-through. Talk is cheap, but it’s action that pays the bills.
So, how are you, as CEO, going to build off all that momentum you and your facilitator created over the course of the planning session and Make BIG Happen this coming year? How are you going to keep employees motivated to hit their daily, weekly, and monthly targets so that the company keeps building towards your Huge, Outrageous Targets (HOTs)?
And, perhaps most critically for 2021, how are you going to accomplish these tasks while managing a decentralized workforce and growing a new online customer base?
There are two keys to answering those questions and putting your annual plan into action. First, communicate the plan to the entire team. Second, create a culture of accountability in your organization.
Employees hate feeling like they’re left out of the loop. If they’re not receiving regular updates and feedback on how initiatives are progressing, they’re going to feel less connected to those initiatives, and less motivated to hit their short-term targets. And on an individual level, if you’re not setting clear deadlines and expectations—and holding people accountable for following through—your WFH force could struggle to maintain focus as they’re building out new personal and professional boundaries.
Here are four strategies that will help you transition from effective annual planning to effective execution in the year ahead.
1. Review the planning session.
You should have left your annual planning session with:
- A small number of HOTs for next year.
- A list of actionable, measurable steps that will allow the company to hit weekly, monthly, and quarterly targets that build towards the HOTs.
- Deadlines for all short and long-term targets.
- Specific people who are responsible for progress on each activity.
The highlights from the Annual Planning Session should be communicated throughout your entire organization. A company-wide meeting and even an all-company email are good places to start, but the planning session results should also be item number one on every department’s next meeting agenda.
A word of caution here: Zoom fatigue is real, and it’s only going to get worse in 2021. If you executed your annual planning session online, your team has already had a large extra dose of screen time for the month. Don’t let this follow-up drag. Reinforce the HOTs, the short-term tasks, and who’s responsible for what by when, and send everyone off to work.
2. Create scoreboards.
Shared group spreadsheets, big whiteboards, weekly email reports – it doesn’t matter what your scoreboard looks like so long as it’s visible to everyone and tracking the right numbers.
And what are the right numbers?
They’re tasks within your employees’ control that can be measured and tracked as they lead toward your HOTs.
If you’re a SaaS company, that scoreboard might track the conversion rate on weekly demo sessions.
Your sales team scoreboard might track the closing ratio on a weekly basis.
Your customer service team might have a scoreboard that tracks delivery time.
Accounts receivable can track your cash operating cycle and look for ways to get the company paid more quickly.
Scoreboards are for measurable activities, not outcomes. “Sell X more product” sounds like an activity, but it’s actually the end result of smaller daily, weekly, and monthly activities. Drill down until you find those leading activities.
If you can’t measure what your teams are doing, you can’t track their progress toward your HOTs. And if your employees aren’t seeing where they’re progressing and where they’re falling behind, they’re going to get complacent. I’ve always loved the traditional office “big board,” but in this environment, make sure someone is in charge of maintaining a shareable digital equivalent.
3. Establish a regular meeting rhythm.
Here is an outline of a communication calendar I’ve used successfully for many years:
Daily: A quick morning huddle with each management team. Make sure all systems are go and daily tasks will progress without any interruptions. This doesn’t have to be more than a walk-and-talk.
Weekly: A working session with the leadership team. Discuss and review progress on initiatives that are critical to achieving your annual HOTs. That’s it. Don’t waste your time or your leaders’ time chasing shiny objects or putting out fires. Those are topics for different meetings.
Monthly: A leadership team update to staff. Key issues to discuss will include:
- How the company did compared with how it expected to do.
- What went right? What went wrong?
- Plans for the coming quarter, including any new initiatives.
- Recognize people who went above and beyond to enhance the company’s culture and put its values in action.
- Celebrate employee milestones, such as service anniversaries and birthdays.
I also recommend that the CEO send a personalized monthly communication to all staff. This could be as simple as an email, or a video or audio recording. Take a moment every month to inspire your team, reinforce their importance to hitting those HOTs, and celebrate small victories along the way.
Many of our highest-performing entrepreneur coaching clients have taken personal outreach to another level during the pandemic. Never underestimate the impact that a 5-minute phone call from the CEO can have on morale and motivation. Show employees that you care about how they’re managing the WFH transition, how their kids are doing with school, etc., and they’re going to show you top effort.
Quarterly: A Planning session with the leadership team facilitated by an outside expert. Time for some tough questions and honest answers.
- What went right this quarter?
- What went wrong?
- What have we learned?
- Did we do what we said we would do?
- Where did we miss, and why?
- What are the biggest opportunities that have come up this quarter?
- What are the biggest challenges, and how are we dealing with them?
- What new goals should we set for the quarter, and how can we ensure they are aligned with our annual plan?
4. Work with a coach who will hold you accountable.
Clear communication through scoreboards and a meeting rhythm will create a sustainable culture of accountability that reinforces itself.
But how are you and each member of your leadership team going to hold yourself accountable? Hire a coach.
Chances are you had a coach growing up. A coach who taught you how to play a sport or some other activity who was there to teach you, encourage you, and hold you accountable to meeting expectations. It’s no different now that you are an entrepreneur, CEO, or senior leader. You can still benefit from a coach who knows you, your business, and your goals and who won’t shy away from pointing out where you’re falling short and pushing you forward when you’re in danger of plateauing.
I hope this three-part series has made it clear that annual planning isn’t just an annual event. It’s an on-going process that requires courage, commitment, and accountability from the highest levels of your organization all the way down to the ground floor.
But ultimately, that process starts with you, the CEO. If your company is going to keep growing in 2021, you need to commit to growing as a leader as well.
To learn more about how we can help you Make BIG Happen, click here.
About Mark Moses
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 600 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 40 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 59% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.ceocoachinginternational.com