Find your Focus: The Magic of 90-Day Plans
Large companies have quarterly targets and objectives, because they know that this is a good way of breaking down their annual objectives into smaller parts. I talk about this a lot as a leadership keynote speaker; the practice of setting 90-day goals adds focus and urgency, and makes it easier to get your head around key objectives—particularly if you are the one tasked with delivering the results.
As entrepreneurs and small business owners, there is no reason you can’t also leverage the benefit of setting 90-day goals and 90-day action plans. This gives you an opportunity to celebrate your wins four times a year, or to get back on track if you are not where you want to be. Either way, it’s a good tactic and one that I have found works particularly well in a seasonal business.
For example, when I owned car dealerships in the UK, we would do almost 25% of total new vehicle sales during the month of September, as this was the start of the new model year. However, this meant that July and August were typically very quiet, due to summer vacations and people waiting for the new models to be introduced. By setting sales targets on a quarterly rather than monthly basis, we were able to help our sales team stay focused on quarterly and big-picture annual objectives rather than getting distracted by short-term peaks and valleys.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to
focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the
hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
Both for my leadership keynote speaker business and in my dealership days, I found that this time of year is ideal for revisiting the goals you set at the beginning of the year; you can see what progress you have made, and what still remains to be done. Crafting a 90-day plan for the months of September, October and November can be very effective in sharpening your focus and getting rid of unwanted distractions.
But wait…what about December? Well, if you haven’t achieved 90% of your goals by December, then it’s likely that they’re not going to happen this year. December is a tough month for doing new business because of the holiday season, but you can turn this to your advantage. Find your focus, and get the job done by the end of November—and then relax and enjoy some time with your family while reflecting on a successful year! It is a great time to recharge your batteries and prepare for the year ahead.
Crafting an Effective 90-Day Plan
So how do you go about putting together a 90 day plan that actually works? As I tell my leadership keynote speaker clients, as well as my employees: keep it simple, and there is a much better chance that you will actually implement the plan. In addition, goal-setting expert Michael Hyatt suggests your goals should be “SMARTER”: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-Bound, Exciting and Relevant.
In his slight twist on the conventional SMART goals, Hyatt adds “Risky” to increase accountability, PLUS “Exciting” and “Relevant”—these benchmarks are a good measure of whether you are setting goals that are inspiring for you, and will therefore have a bigger payoff personally if you can achieve them.
For example, I am trying to finish a new book, and my plan looks like this:
• September: First draft to editor by September 30
• October: all copy edits to be done by October 31
• November: cover design, book layout and final edits
This is a simple three-point plan, but it’s enough to get me laser focused and not let the project slide or find excuses to do something else. It’s also especially powerful to share your 90-day plans with your assistant, colleagues or boss—once it becomes a more public commitment, they can support and encourage you along the way (as well as holding you accountable for keeping your word).
Become a Better Leader in 90 Days
Did you know: you can also apply the simple magic of 90-day plans to your own leadership skills? Whether you’re just stepping into a new management role, or have recently recognized an opportunity to re-calibrate your professional relationships, the process described above can work just as well for abstract concepts like improving communication and trust with your employees as it does for concrete tasks like finishing your annual budget. Here’s a simple checklist I’ve found to be extremely effective, and which I often talk about on the leadership keynote speaker circuit.
Weeks 1–3: Relationship Audit. Leadership is about inspiring the best in your team—and you can’t do that if you don’t have healthy relationships with your employees. Start your 90-day leadership overhaul by taking a close look at your interactions with your team members. No relationship is perfect, but chances are, you already know where improvements are needed. During this critical “relationship audit” phase, take a thorough inventory of past and present challenges with each individual on your team—and focus on what you might do differently to avoid or mediate similar challenges in the future.
Weeks 4–6: Frank Talk. Once you’ve completed your relationship audit, you’ll likely be developing a clearer picture of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Now, it’s important to get each individual’s input in order to create an action plan for improvement. I’ve talked about this with many people on the leadership keynote speaker circuit; some prefer an anonymous survey, while others prefer a face-to-face meeting. But no matter how you choose to receive the information, the purpose of this phase is to have a frank conversation about your employees’ experience working for you...and how it could be better.
Weeks 7–9: Feedback Analysis. Once you’ve completed the second phase of this process, you’ll have a LOT of information about what you’re doing well, and what you can improve. With regards to your areas of improvements, you’ll want to look for patterns in your team’s comments. For example, did more than one person cite a need for clearer, kinder or more timely communication from you? Flag these “challenge areas,” and use them to create a concrete to-do list for your interactions in the next 30 days.
Weeks 10–12: Plan Deployment. You’ve heard your team’s feedback, and translated their thoughts into real changes you can put into action immediately. Start each week with a review of your action plan; look at the various meetings and conversations on your calendar, and start thinking about how you can apply these small but significant shifts over the coming five days. Then, as I often say to my leadership keynote speaker clients, set aside 30 minutes or so at the end of the week to look back at the calendar to reflect on how those conversations went—and how you can continue to improve each and every day.