Your upcoming quarterly alignment meeting is going to be one of the most important planning sessions your company has ever done. All we know for sure about the Covid-19 pandemic right now is that it’s going to keep disrupting businesses and the markets through the spring, if not longer. No matter what kind of business you’re in, you’re going to be coping with unreliable supply chains, remote working arrangements, unpredictable market swings, and a jittery workforce for the foreseeable future.
As we will discuss, your Covid-19 action plan has to be item number one on this quarter’s alignment meeting agenda. But once you have a plan to ensure the safety of your workplace, business has to go on. Under normal circumstances, working with a third-party facilitator is always the most effective way to run a major planning session. This quarter, that outside perspective could be critical to staying on track towards your annual goals.
An expert facilitator can also help you clear one more challenge that’s unique to this quarter’s meeting: you probably have to hold it virtually via an online videoconference.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of maintaining alignment, a couple quick tips on how to run an effective virtual meeting:
- Use video. If attendees know you can’t see them, multitasking and other distractions are just a browser tab away. Provide a voice dial-in number in case of emergency or travel, but make it clear that video is your strong preference.
- Test. Ahead of the meeting, run a test call with your coach or facilitator to make sure your audio and video are configured correctly. Most teleconferencing services give attendees a chance to do the same before they join the call.
- Stick to the agenda. This might look and feel like a video chat with your quarantined kids. It’s not. Take a few minutes at the top of the meeting to check in on everyone personally, then get down to business.
- Involve everyone. Cover every topic you would discuss if you were face-to-face. Under the circumstances, no problem or idea is “too important” for a virtual meeting. Call on attendees like you’re all sitting at the same table. Some services even include built-in polling and note-taking that you can use to solicit feedback and record key points.
- Keep moving. The more this meeting drags, the less engaged your virtual attendees are going to become. You and your facilitator need to maximize momentum and minimize digressions.
For more virtual meeting best practices, check out this article from the Harvard Business Review.
Here’s an example of an agenda for an effective virtual quarterly alignment meeting. Note, each company is unique so your agenda may differ, but this will give you an idea.
11am – 11:30am: Introduction
Opening. A quick check-in on everyone’s wellness and a brief, positive “state of the company” from the CEO.
What we want out of today. Brief overview of the agenda.
Check-in on Culture, Communication and Happiness. Focus here on your Covid-19 action plan.
If your business is international, make sure you have a regular communication system in place with your overseas teams. Consider cancelling any travel plans that governments haven’t already grounded. If your employees in major metropolitan areas can work from home, let them. Move upcoming meetings to teleconference.
If you operate in an area that isn’t currently high-risk, tap the key local relationships you’ve cultivated in government and law enforcement so that you’re in the loop when there’s news. Ramp up your office sanitation schedule and remind employees to practice good hygiene. Encourage ill employees to stay home and allow for as much remote work as possible.
Above all, do right by your employees. Making a plan to get them through the next few months with as little personal, professional, and financial disruption as possible is one of the best investments you can make in your business right now.
Core Values Stories. Acknowledge the superstars who have gone above and beyond and exemplified what’s best about your company as you adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic.
11:30am – 12:30pm: Financial Review & Revised Forecasts with a Variety of Contingencies
Ahead of this meeting, we ask our entrepreneur coaching clients and all attendees to write down their answers to these discussion points:
- 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?
It’s important that the CEO enters this meeting with realistic expectations. Depending on what business you’re in, there’s a good chance you’re lagging behind some of your targets right now. But you can’t just throw up your hands and blame everything on the Covid-19 virus, market fluctuations, travel restrictions, and other things you can’t control.
At this stage of the meeting you have to push past superficial answers and keep asking questions until you get to things you CAN control. Companies that keep digging are going to find that current challenges might be revealing deeper structural inefficiencies that have been plaguing the business in less obvious ways all along.
And yes, you do need to develop two or three revised financial forecasts based on potential adverse scenarios. Look, we don’t know how long this crisis will last so forecast out 3 months, 6 months, even a year. What’s your cash look like in each of those scenarios? How can you build up your cash position? Protect your cash position so you have a bridge to get you to the other side of normal.
12:30pm – 2pm: Q2 Priorities
OK, so last quarter was tough. Now that you’ve figured out why, you have to address a new set of questions so that you can do better:
- What are our biggest opportunities in this new environment?
- What are our biggest challenges in this new environment?
- How do we protect ourselves from what we can’t control and mitigate our risk?
- What revisions or changes should we make to our 2020 goals?
- Based on these revised goals what key initiatives should we pursue?
- What is our Q2 action plan around these key initiatives?
- What are the specific and measurable activities that we have control over and that we can use to keep score on our progress?
- What are the top priorities for the next 30 days? Who owns what by when?
- How do we take advantage of the new CARES Act? Who owns this?
- What is our communication plan to our team? How will we be communicating and how frequently?
Again, the purpose of this meeting is alignment. Under the circumstances, this Q2 might require a significant RE-alignment. Pulling your sales team off the road means turning to teleconferencing and good old-fashioned phone calls to hit quotas. If your most reliable customers don’t have the means to make their usual purchases, you’ll need to target new business more aggressively. If your usual suppliers can’t deliver, investigate ways to spread out your supply chain. If illness and remote work are going to slow down your operations, look for a flexible, short-term offshoring solution.
Companies that are struggling with significant declines in sales or production activity should also consider moving ahead with “momentum killers” — those sidelined projects or infrastructure upgrades that might have dragged down your productivity in normal times. It could be weeks or months before your Q2 action plan drives business back up to normal levels. Make the most of that downtime. Upgrade software. Hold online training sessions or workshops with your sales team. Work on the things now that can help you come out of this crisis with strong momentum.
On the other hand, if you’re the only company on your block with a strong, diversified supply chain, you might be able to find some growth opportunities. Is there a new niche of customers whose needs you could be addressing? Are there any discount or loyalty programs you could establish that will underline your commitment to your customers and community, as well as your brand value?
I know asking these kinds of questions can feel a little icky when the world is dealing with a pandemic. But if Q1 has stalled your progress towards your annual goals, you have to course correct. Your bills still need paying, Tax Day is still coming, payroll still needs to be fulfilled, and your company still needs to progress towards its annual growth goals.
Finally, don’t adjourn until you’ve answered three more questions:
- What? Define all key alignment or realignment initiatives so that they are specific, measurable, and actionable.
- Who? Assign clear responsibility for hitting each What to a member of your leadership team.
- When? Set deadlines for achieving specific benchmarks and a schedule for regular progress reports.
No truly effective meeting or planning session works in isolation. The best companies establish a meeting rhythm that reinforces all communication and fosters a culture of accountability.
Under normal circumstances, we recommend that CEOs hold weekly meetings with their leadership teams. The Covid-19 situation needs to accelerate that routine. 48 hours later you and your key personnel should be huddling up to review the latest information and how your business is adapting to this environment. Also consider holding another virtual alignment meeting in 30 days for further assessment of the 30-day plan.
Your company can’t afford for you and your leadership team to waste this valuable meeting time. Stay focused on the quarterly alignment strategy. Share results from last week’s KPIs. Discuss progress on key initiatives. Open the floor to any new issues and discuss those that are directly related to your most important targets.
It’s easy to lead when things are going well. How you keep your company safe and aligned to its goals in Q2 could be a defining moment for both you and the business. Be clear, be bold, be reassuring, and be responsive to your people’s needs, and you can come out of the next quarter on track to make BIG happen.
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 500 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 66.4% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.