By Kevin Brent, pictured above, director of business support provider and franchise, BizSmart, and author of The Entrepreneurial Scale-Up System
Many business owners get caught up in the day-to-day running of their business, and finding time to plan and reflect on what’s working and what isn’t can be extremely challenging. All businesses – large and small – can benefit from a solid 90-day planning process. Without it, they will struggle to maintain consistency and harness the power that comes from having everyone aligned around the same priorities.
Why 90 days?
90 days is short enough that you can see things reasonably clearly and long enough that you can achieve something meaningful if you try. There are several reasons why 90-day planning is so critical to scaling up. Not only does it bridge the gap between strategy and actions, but it also enables these five key things:
1. Clarity – it provides the ability to set goals and make decisions ensuring you put first things first
2. Alignment – it helps you ensure everyone is on the same page
3. Flexibility – it gives you the ability to adjust course quickly and execute accordingly
4. Great communication – it improves communication within the business
5. It allows business owners to set clear responsibilities and ownership
How to develop a robust 90-day plan
The following elements are fundamental to an effective a 90-day plan. Once a robust structure is in place, the aim is to review progress on each of the elements every quarter and identify any areas that might need working on so they can be considered when determining priorities for the following 90 days.
Last quarter performance
Start by reviewing how you did against your priorities for the last quarter. Brainstorm what went well and not so well and take time to identify any issues or opportunities that need addressing, including internal and external risks. Ask yourself:
How did the last quarter go? Overall, what went well and can be celebrated, and what went less so well and needs improving? How did you do against your priorities from the last quarter and how was your performance against KPIs?
Where are you against the annual Critical Paths and goals for the year? What should you stop, start, continue?
What have you learnt internally and externally? – about the market, your customers, competitors and yourselves. Are there any regulations you need to think about?
What issues/opportunities or risk/trends need addressing? What are you doing as a business that you should stop doing? What should you start doing and what should you continue doing? A great habit to get into for all senior leaders and managers is to have at least one of these conversations with an employee every week to help your thinking.
How are you doing against the plan? Are you remaining true to your ‘focus’ and are you on track with your three-year and one-year goals?
How is the team culture? Where are you strong and where could you improve? Which core value could you work on this quarter and how do you make it ‘real’ to everyone? What could you do to make sure everyone is aware of it including customers and staff? What could you do to make sure everyone understands what it means in their role and how could you build it into some of your core processes?
Determining 90-day priorities
Determining your 90-day priorities starts with the question ‘what does good look like in 90 days’ time?’ or ‘when we meet in 90 days, what must have happened between now and then for us to consider the quarter to be a success?’.
Take a selection of your annual priorities and set a specific target against them for the quarter, and identify any additional priorities by looking back at the previous quarter and reviewing performance, lessons learnt and issues identified earlier. Ideally, you should set no more than seven priorities, typically around five, because they should be the most important things. The idea is that you do achieve these so, whilst you want them to be a challenge, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself and your team into inaction by having too many.
You will not be short of things that you could do in your business. 90-day planning is about honing down this list into things you should do, and then finally things you must do in the next 90 days. ‘Increasing sales’ or ‘improving customer service’ are not well-defined priorities. Rather, consider ‘improving sales from X to Y’, or what specific aspect of customer service you aim to improve and how will it be measured. If you have a priority that you think is bigger than can be done in 90 days, break it down and define what part of it will be done in 90 days.
Identify your top priority
Once you have chosen a handful of priorities for the quarter, decide which is the absolute top priority and identify a ‘critical number’ that goes with this and enables you to measure progress. It may be that out of the priorities, there is one that ‘unlocks’ the others or, when focused on, makes it easier to accomplish them. The idea of the critical number is to be able to measure progress against your top priority – failing all else, this is the one thing that must be achieved this quarter.
Consider personal objectives
Take some time to ensure you include your personal objectives into the thinking and marry up your personal goals and priorities with the company ones. This is important because our business and personal lives are intertwined, perhaps now more than ever. If we want to feel we are achieving something worthwhile, we need to consider both together. Pull your personal and business priorities together to develop three to five ‘rocks’ for yourself, and one or two critical numbers for your role. Answer the questions: ‘what does good look like for me in my role over the next 90 days?’ and ‘when we meet again at the end of the 90 days, what must have happened for me to consider it a successful quarter?’. The ‘rocks’ should be written in the form: I will achieve ‘x’ as measured by ‘y’…
The final step is to define what you are going to do and when by. You need to turn the ‘what I want to do’ into the ‘how’. For each ‘rock’, everyone needs to identify a few actions that will progress towards achieving that rock. In some instances, it may not be you who is responsible for it, so identify who is and ensure you remember to brief them.
Each action should be SMART– Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic and Timebound – but you don’t need to develop a detailed action plan here. If more detail is required, for example a project plan, this should be identified here and planned separately. For example, you may decide now that a team member needs to develop a project plan by a certain date to launch a new service, but it is then down to the individual to develop that plan with the detail required by the deadline agreed.
By using the above approach, you have considered all the key areas you need to develop your priorities and targets for the next quarter.
A solid 90-day plan can become the backbone for scaling a business and is incredibly powerful when implemented properly. By following these steps to build a bridge and align everyone around a few key priorities for the quarter, you can work towards the ultimate direction of your business and achieving sustainable growth long-term.