Disciplined Action To Get Results
One of my favorite quotes is by Jim Collins, “Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action – operating with freedom within a framework of responsibilities – this is the cornerstone of a culture that creates greatness.”
Most entrepreneurs I’ve worked with suffer from similar challenges. One of the common problems that may sound familiar to you is being so inundated with things to do that you don’t have any time to be intentional.
If you’ve succeeded in making enough time to work on creating a powerful Vision for your business, you’ll want to design a meeting rhythm that enables you to strike the right balance between time spent working in the business and time spent working on the business. Ensuring you have adequate time and space to both plan and execute effectively is vital to your success in 2019.
One of the universal challenges in life was famously described by Stephen R. Covey in his Time Management Matrix. A quick Google search will yield plenty of sources if you want to learn more about the matrix. Essentially, it is a simple 4 box matrix with ‘Urgency’ on one axis and ‘Importance’ on the other axis.
Unfortunately, most people spend the majority of their time doing things that feel urgent to them whether or not they are important. This focus on working on the most urgent things often leaves people with little or no time to spend on important but not urgent things.
Over my many years of studying both personal and organizational effectiveness, I’ve found many parallels between the two. Both effective individuals and effective organizations have clearly articulated goals, objectives or dreams, and both apply their resources (time, talents, money) in a way to maximize the likelihood of achieving their desired outcomes.
If you want to dominate in 2019, you have to force yourself to get out of the urgent and into the important, especially the important-but-not-urgent stuff. I’ve found no better way to do that than to structure it into your routine. When you build time for working on your business into your way of doing business, you’ll quickly find yourself wondering how you ever got along without it. Just like the consistency of your heartbeat, a well-designed meeting rhythm will enable your company to supply life-giving blood to the entire organism.
There are two aspects that need to be addressed in the meeting rhythm:
I have a friend and partner named Tyler Norton who talks about this in very practical and helpful ways. He calls the Planning part, “Getting it Right” and the Execution piece, “Getting it Done.”
Most entrepreneurs spend all of their time ‘getting it done” without giving adequate attention to “getting it right.”
While there can be variations from company to company, your meeting rhythm needs to consider the right combination of meetings at the following frequencies:
Yearly (or Annual) Planning Offsite:
While I believe there should be some level of review/accountability as the final quarter and year are wrapping up and that there should also be some focus on strengthening a team, for simplicity’s sake, there are two main objectives for the leadership team at an Annual Planning Offsite:
- Strategic clarity for the coming year
- An operating plan for the year and for the first quarter**
Ideally, Annual Planning happens before the new year starts. I’ve found the end of November or the beginning of December to be good timing for the offsite, leaving 3-4 weeks (not counting holiday time) to button up the plans and get the entire company aligned and ready to run together at the start of the new year. Typically, I recommend allocating 2-3 days for the Annual Planning offsite.
**NOTE: The operating plan doesn’t typically get finished at the offsite. Rather, key decisions are made by the leadership team at the offsite along with a high-level plan. Back at the office, other team members are brought into the planning process to secure full support as the plan is refined and completed.
Quarterly Planning Offsite:
In my opinion, the Quarterly Planning Offsite is a non-negotiable. In this meeting you do important work to ensure your company does the planning necessary to stay on track to achieve the annual plan. You will be tempted to skip it, postpone it or shorten it. Get it on the calendar and don’t let anything get in the way of this quarterly time to work on the business.
To use a football analogy, you have to consistently put together winning quarters in order to win the game. You might be able to overcome one bad quarter during the game, but you won’t have a winning football team if you miss more frequently than that. Teams that execute well against a solid game plan win over talented teams with no plan.
In your Quarterly Planning Offsite, make sure you come away with a clear understanding of the work and results needed to stay on track for your annual goals. Naming quarterly themes or priorities alone is insufficient. You have to define what success looks like for the quarter and plan SMART objectives with owners and due dates.(When we talk about SMART objectives we define it as: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound.)
Taking 1-2 full days away from the office on a quarterly basis to do some critical thinking and to plan together as a leadership team is how you make time for the things that are not urgent but important. If you want 2019 to be your best year yet, schedule your Quarterly Planning Offsites now and don’t miss them.
One innovative company I know decided to hold their planning meetings 3 times a year instead of 4. They call them ‘Trimesters’ (every 4 months) instead of Quarters (every 3 months). This approach enables them to minimize the overhead associated with planning without compromising their ability to plan well. While this approach may not work for everyone, it may be perfect for your company.
Monthly Half Day:
Effective people and organizations take time periodically to assess progress against the plan. Given the quarterly (or trimester) planning and execution cadence, a monthly check-in is highly recommended. Naturally, there is no monthly meeting needed the same month as the Quarterly Planning Offsite. But, for the other 2 months of the quarter, a Monthly Half Day is essential.
The Monthly Half Day is the one meeting where planning and execution are fairly balanced. As the primary objective for the meeting is to ensure everyone and everything is on track to achieve the quarterly plan, I would spend the first part of the meeting doing assessing progress towards quarterly themes or priorities (the “Plan”). In essence, you will be asking yourselves/each other, “How well are we doing completing all of the SMARTs for this quarter?”
The beautiful thing about the Monthly Half Day is that the leadership team can also tackle a “Big Rock” or two once the quarterly planning progress work is done. A Big Rock is an issue or challenge that has surfaced in the operations of the business and was too big/meaty to handle quickly in the Weekly Meeting.
Leadership teams who utilize a Monthly Half Day to stay on track with the Plan and address Big Rocks that surface in the course of doing business are much more likely to consistently hit company goals.
If you aren’t holding a Weekly Meeting with your leadership team, it’s time to start. You can’t effectively keep your collective hand on the pulse of the business as a team if you don’t meet weekly to review the numbers.
The challenge with any Weekly Meeting is that they can become routine and dull. You have to stay crisp with the purpose of the meeting and the agenda. You don’t want this meeting to drag on and on with no real impact. When that happens, people start to dread coming to this meeting every week.
I’ve found that most leadership teams can accomplish the work of the Weekly Meeting in 30-60 minutes. The objectives are to review the key measures for the business, discuss the reasons for anything that is off pace for the monthly and quarterly goals, and coordinate on any correction measures that need to be taken.
This is NOT a planning meeting. While some teams will also take a few minutes to review progress on the quarterly SMARTs that were due that week, the primary purpose of this meeting is to stay focused on the operational excellence of the business.
Many leaders embrace Daily Huddles as a best practice for keeping their teams aligned and motivated. These meetings are best held as “stand-up” meetings and are intended to be quick (5-10 minutes max). While the agenda for these meetings can vary, here is a quick reference for an effective Daily Huddle. Each team member shares the following with the group:
- Quick positive focus – this can be professional or personal… just something they are positive about (maybe a win from the day before).
- THE most important thing they will accomplish that day (where their focus is).
- What, if anything, they need from the team to be successful that day.
Each team and leader is a little different. Some leaders will occasionally bring a motivational or educational piece to the huddle or may even do some team recognition in this setting. Some leaders may want to capture daily commitments and ask for a quick accountability to the stated ONE THING from the day before. Others will choose to limit accountability conversations to 1:1 interactions with team members. However they differ, Daily Huddles should help team members start their workday from a place of positivity and focus.
If you don’t see the need for a Daily Huddle to keep team members focused and promote the right level of regular communication, collaboration and accountability, you can choose to employ this part of the rhythm during particularly challenging periods in your business.
I remember a time when we used a daily stand-up during a company crisis to ensure everyone was aligned on the the game plan for that day and to provide a mechanism to bubble up things that were going well and also to have people share roadblocks they were experiencing. Once the crisis was over we stopped holding company-wide huddles and left it up to each team to decide if they would use huddles to accomplish their objectives.
A Continuum of Planning to Execution:
It may be obvious to you, but the meetings in a good meeting rhythm spread pretty evenly across a continuum between Planning and Execution. The Annual Planning Offsite being entirely on the ‘Planning’ side and Daily Huddles being completely on the opposite ‘Execution’ side of the continuum. Quarterly Planning is mostly planning and the Weekly Meeting is mostly execution. The Monthly meeting falls in the middle of the continuum enabling teams to check in on strategic progress (progress towards “the plan”) while allowing space to deal with operational “Big Rocks” that surface during the course of doing business and are too large to address adequately during the Weekly Meeting.
2019 will be a much better year for you and your business, if you’ll develop the discipline to stick to a meeting rhythm. At first, the meetings may not feel very comfortable and you may fumble through them a bit. The important thing is to keep holding the meetings. You and your people will get better at making the meetings effective with repetition.
Remember the meeting rhythm’s purpose is to serve you, not the other way around. If you find yourself becoming enslaved by the meeting rhythm instead of being empowered by it, you need to make some adjustments.
Getting clarity into your business along with the discipline of a good planning and execution rhythm will take you much further than you’ve been able to go previously.
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