Creating a 1-Page Quarterly Action Plan for Your Business
As a leader of your company you know it’s your job to lead your team and keep the company focused on the right things.
In fact, in order to successfully scale your company requires that you balance the need to holding a firm focus on those fewer, better things that will make a leveraged difference for your company and your need to maintain your flexibility so you can adjust as you go.
It’s as if you had a two-sided equation. On one side of the equation you have to balance the need for flexibility—markets change, opportunities appear, and tactics succeed or fail. And on the other side of the equation is your need to gain momentum, and for your staff to have the time to get meaningful blocks of work done.
Essentially, you have to balance making sure your action plan can be adapted for the changing circumstances of your marketplace, and the high cost in lost momentum and frustrated team if you change your company’s focus too frequently. (One of the biggest challenges our business coaching client’s staffs tell us about is how dizzy they are when their founder/owner changes too many things too frequently.)
So what’s the key to maintaining this dynamic balance between flexibility and momentum? It is the quarter.
The quarter is the perfect unit of time to bridge your big-picture goals, which likely have a two- to five-year timeline or longer, and your weekly planning and daily action. The quarter is the key to executing on your strategy to accomplish your business goals.
It’s long enough that you can get meaningful units of work done that collectively bring you closer to your long-term goals, but short enough so that you can frequently course correct and hold your focus.
In a moment I’ll share the format we use for our 1-page plan of action, but first I want to share why I emphasize the need for a one-page plan. Why one page?
It’s because we’ve learned from our work coaching hundreds of companies that in the rush of the day to day, you need to be able to take in your company action plan in one gestalt whole. If your plan is 2 pages, or 3 pages (or heaven forbid – 14 pages!) you just won’t use it weekly.
We coach our business coaching clients to review their companies’ quarterly action plan each week. In essence it becomes a clear accountability tool and GPS to make sure that your team is focusing on the right things, and hitting the key milestones on time. And with your plan being 1-page, you and your team can take it in with one look.
This discipline of working with a quarterly ONE PAGE action plan has helped our business coaching clients enjoy an average annual growth rate of 32.4%. It just works.
Here is what our formatted action plans look like.
Creating Your 1-Page Quarterly Strategic Action Plan in 3 Simple Steps
Step One: Pick Your Top Three “Focus Areas” for the Quarter
Your Focus Areas are the most important areas for your business to spotlight during the coming quarter.
Sure, you’ll still have to take care of the day-to-day operational needs of your business, but your Focus Areas are those areas you’ve identified where you will invest a portion of your best resources that quarter because you know that these areas are what will really help you scale and develop your business.
Each quarter my coaching for you is to meet with your leadership team (or solo if you don’t have a leadership team) and decide on the top 2-3 Focus Areas for your business for that quarter.
Potential Focus Areas could be:
- Increasing your lead flow.
- Improving your sales conversion system.
- Speeding up your collections cycle.
- Making a specific key hire.
- Developing a new product.
- Progressing on a key project.
I strongly advise you to limit your company to only three Focus Areas for the quarter as your top priorities (and in many cases, having only one or two Focus Areas for the quarter may be an even better choice.) Why limit your company to three Focus Areas? Because too many top priorities means you have no top priorities.
Ninety days comes fast, and if you spread your company too thin, you’ll find that you partially do more things instead of fully doing a few key chunks that actually produce value for your company.
So pick your Focus Areas carefully and invest your resources to get something special done on these fewer, better areas.
Step Two: Clarify the Criteria for Success for Each of Your Three Focus Areas
Now that you’ve picked your three Focus Areas for the quarter, the temptation is to immediately go lay out your action steps in this area for the quarter.
Don’t. Step two says first pause and clarify your criteria of success for each.
What would you need to accomplish this quarter in order to feel successful in this Focus Area?
Be ruthlessly realistic about what is possible for you to accomplish in ninety days.
Generally we suggest you try to pick criteria of success that you have control over (or at the very least you over which have a great deal of influence.) It’s important to look for criteria that are as objectively and quantitatively measurable as possible. When criteria are too subjective, you may reach the end of the quarter without agreeing on whether or not you succeeded.
Also, we suggest that for every focus area you pick one “Key Performance Indicator” (KPI) to track. If you look to this KPI to determine your performance, you’ll know if your company is on track to succeed in this Focus Area.
Look for 3-4 definite criteria of success for each Focus Areas. (See the sample plan of action above for what these could look like.)
Your written criteria of success for each Focus Area gives you a clear yardstick against which to measure progress as you go. Also, by starting with your criteria of success before you create your plan is that by laying out your criteria of success for each Focus Area you’ll have clear clues for what action steps you’ll actually need to take over the quarter. Most of your action steps are obvious in your criteria of success.
Step Three: Lay Out Your Key Action Steps and Milestones for the Quarter
The final step is to lay out the key action steps and milestones you need to take or reach to accomplish your criteria of success for each Focus Area over the coming quarter.
In order to keep your plan to one page, you’ll likely break each Focus Area down into five to seven action steps and milestones.
While your plan must be detailed enough to guide your actions, it must not be so detailed that you feel overwhelmed or lose yourself in the minutia.
For each action step, pick a specific team member to be ultimately responsible for executing the step by a definite date. While you can have multiple people contribute to a specific step or steps, you need to pick one person who is tasked with the responsibility and authority to get that step done and done well. We say that this person “owns” the task. This sense of ownership is critical to your success. It’s hard to hold anyone accountable for missed milestones when it wasn’t clear who was really responsible in the first place.
With this structure, the owner doesn’t have to do all of the work herself—she just needs to be responsible for making sure that it gets done in the best way possible within the company.
If you would like to watch a 20 minute video training on how we do our strategic planning with clients to come up with their quarterly action plan, click here and access our free Scale Tool Kit. One of the 21 videos there is on exactly that – me walking a business owner through creating a one page plan of action. Enjoy.