As with the early stage in any achievement, the first quarter of the year is a vitally important time for any organization. If you are going to hit your strategic goals, it's what happens now that provides the foundation for the rest of the year.
Nonetheless, I see many business leaders drift through Q1 with a subconscious notion that 'there's plenty of time left to get it right', and, as a result, they are left scrambling in the middle (or worse, at the end) of the year to achieve the goals they set.
Here are the top 10 things I see business leaders do in Q1 that optimize the achievement of their strategic goals:
1. Break the connection to last year's narrative.
Some form of narrative will have emerged last year: Our product offering is weak; our pricing model isn't competitive; we need to redesign our compensation plans--your mileage will vary. Unless any or all of that narrative is central to this year's strategic plan, it's vital to establish a clean break from the constraints of simply replaying last year's narrative over again.
2. Establish this year's narrative.
Instead, be clear about what this year's narrative is. Establish clearly what your OMG (Overarching Medium-term Goal) is and push it relentlessly.
3. Identify the low hanging fruit.
Successful teams know how to score. Find the low-hanging fruit in your strategic plans--those goals that are easiest to put a fat green checkmark beside--and convert them early. Build your team's confidence and they'll stretch further and for the bigger goals.
4. Watch for adjustments to make.
One thing is absolutely certain: Your strategic plan is wrong. Somewhere, there's an incorrect assumption, a wrongly identified challenge, an ill-defined goal. The sooner you spot those things that are wrong and correct them, the more confidence everyone will have in the plan itself.
5. Murder your darlings.
The renowned English author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once observed that good writing depends on the writer having the fortitude to 'murder their darlings'. I'm well aware of how easy it is to become fascinated with some piece of literary brilliance I've penned, only to have a brave editor point out that it's florid, indulgent nonsense. Similarly, we all have pet projects that find their way into our plans for our business. Spend Q1 rooting them out. (Hint: Find a mentor who is ruthlessly constructive in reviewing your goals.)
6. Watch entropy.
Most businesses have their own entropy--an inward gravitational pull back to the decaying shadow of what we did back in our glory days. Achieving this year's goals will almost certainly in some way challenge how you have done things in the past (and if they don't, they're probably sub-optimal goals). Your people, even--especially--your best people, will be drawn to the old ways of doing things. It's your job to step in early and arrest that drift.
7. Call out recalcitrants.
Giving in to a gravitational pull is one thing, overtly conflicting with where the business is headed is quite another. If you have mavericks on board, Q1 is the time to call them out. Wait longer and they will build a caucus, which will make it harder for you to fix.
8. Make yourself nauseous.
Repetition is a surprisingly large part of success. Watch a world-class tennis player or golfer, for example, and you'll see them go through precisely the same pre-shot routine over and over again. The players who get bored with routine and are unpredictable in the interstices between shots are the journeymen who bulk up the field. In the first quarter of the year, your goal should be to repeat your business, division, department, project, group or team's OMG so often that you feel physically nauseous at the thought of doing so again. This is the time to make sure everyone gets it, without exception.
9. Hand out reprieves.
Folks will screw up in Q1. They'll revert back to old ways of doing things, misread your intentions, mangle data, botch execution. If they're still doing it in Q2, and certainly in Q3 and Q4, that's the time to have a performance assessment discussion. In Q1, cut them some slack--they're getting used to new goals. Be generous with reprieves in Q1.
10. Declare amnesty.
Here's a weird thing: Often strategic goals get little traction in Q1 because everyone is so busy autopsying screw-ups from the previous year's Q4 (particularly if it was a bad quarter). Do yourself, your team, and this year's strategic goals a favor--declare amnesty on the stuff that's sucking the air out of the room every time you get together. Here's how to do it.
What's the best way to ensure you'll reach (and even exceed) your strategic goals? Find out here.