As important as it is to have a big picture vision for how you plan to grow and scale your business, it's equally important to bring that broader vision back to the level practical execution. And that's where the one-page quarterly plan of action is so effective. These rolling 90-day action plans are powerful tools to focus you and your team on the smaller subset of objectives that will matter most in the coming ninety days.
These rolling one-page action plans give you ninety days to focus your best discretionary time on three specific areas -- or fewer. Obviously you'll still need to take care of the day-to-day business functions you're responsible for but your action plan lays out the key focus areas you're tackling this quarter, along with the clear criteria of success for each, and the five to seven action steps or milestones that will move you toward that success by the end of the quarter.
And it's critical that you stick to just one page. If that plan moves two or seven or seventeen pages, no one will ever look at it. At least not until the end of the quarter, by which time it will be too late to do anything about it. But if your action plan is one page, you can keep the printout right by your desk or up on a board in your office. You can refer back to it at the start of the week and ask yourself, "What do I need to bite off this week to progress on my action plan?"
Over the past 25 years, I've coached literally tens of thousands of business people. The upshot is that, every quarter, my firm works on hundreds of action plans for our business coaching clients. So I can tell you firsthand what works and what doesn't -- not from theory or from academics, but from experience in the real world.
In this article, I want to do just that: I'm going to tell you about three of the most common action-planning pitfalls that I've seen down here in the trenches.
Pitfall #1: Stuffing Your Quarter
There can be a temptation to make all of your action steps and milestones due in the first or second month of the quarter. Resist that temptation.
I've seen this more times than I can count. You've got sixteen action steps due in the first month of the quarter, six due in the second month of the quarter, and none due in the third month of the quarter.
What invariably happens is that you become overwhelmed and overloaded. You get stuck and you basically use that as an excuse to say, "Well, I missed all of these due dates. To heck with it. I'll just move on and I won't do any of this stuff."
It's a lot like the people who adopt radical diets and then, when they mess up one day, throw up their hands say, "Well, I guess I may as well just eat whatever I want now."
I want you to have a much more pragmatic, realistic perspective about what is actually possible. Pace, plan, and balance your quarter so you don't overstuff the first month.
Pitfall #2: Procrastinating
This pitfall is exactly the opposite of stuffing your quarter. Instead of setting all of your due dates for the beginning of the quarter, you set them all for the end. I can tell you that this is a recipe for massive procrastination and that you won't hit your goals.
If you do this, you'll have two weeks of frenzied activities that last month of the quarter and you won't achieve a fraction of your success criteria.
The key here is balance. You want your due dates and your milestones spread out across the quarter so that you can really take each of the necessary action steps toward reaching your goals.
Pitfall #3: Vague Criteria Of Success
Let's say that in the coming quarter, you want to redesign your onboarding process for new clients. That's a great focus area, but it's not enough to say, "We'd like to have the new process developed by the end of the quarter." That's too vague. You need to develop clear criteria of success.
For instance, you may find it helpful to define these four criteria of success:
- You'll meet with key team members to brainstorm new onboarding strategies.
- You'll develop a clear onboarding master checklist.
- You'll revise that checklist.
- You'll develop some kind of tracking scoreboard to measure how quickly you're onboarding new clients.
The best part of formulating clear criteria of success -- observable, actionable behaviors -- is that they imply obvious action steps. So you'll simultaneously become clearer about what you want to do, how you plan to do it, and whether you've succeeded.
If you avoid these three pitfalls, you can drastically improve your quarterly action plans.
And if you enjoyed the ideas I shared, then I encourage you to download a free copy of my newest book, Build a Business, Not a Job. Click here for full details and to get your complimentary copy.