As you enter these last few days of the quarter, how are you doing according to your plan? Are you ahead? Behind? Right on track? Not sure? Was the past quarter a great one? An average one? A poor one? Or a blur—as in, “We’re at the end of another quarter? How did that happen?”
Well, regardless of where you are on that continuum, before you head into this next quarter—and before you create your plan for the next 90 days, I’d highly recommend that you step back and evaluate the past 90 days BEFORE creating your plan for the next quarter.
In light of that, my question for you today is, “So, what’s your system for evaluating every 90 days?”
If you’re like most of the business owners and entrepreneurs I know you don’t have a system for evaluating. You might do it sometimes. But most of the time, it probably slips by. Or if you do have some kind of quarterly eval, it’s a quick three to five-minute, off-the-top-of-your-head calculation vs. a rigorous system of evaluating the past 90 days every quarter to mine for ideas for the future.
So if you’d like to begin a new habit of engaging in one of the key practices of accelerating the growth of your business, you’ll want to keep reading today’s post in order to learn how you can create a system of quarterly evaluations that will keep you from repeating the mistakes of the past while launching you into even greater future successes.
First Things First Though
In order to get the most from a system of quarterly evaluations, you don’t want to simply call a meeting, ask a few questions, and call it a day. You want everyone to prepare for the conversation first.
My recommendation is that you create a Quarterly Review Sheet with the five questions below typed out on it. Then ask each person on your team to pull out the following documents before they fill in their answers to the five questions below.
- Your strategic plan (which should have your mission, vision and core values listed on it, along with your core metrics, your growth accelerators and your constraint eliminators)
- Your 90-Day (or Quarterly) plan(s)
- Any other key plans for that quarter
The reason why you and they need to do this is because in order to evaluate properly, you need to have something to evaluate against. What tends to happen in most organizations when they evaluate is the leader will say something like, “So, what didn’t work this quarter?” as an open-ended question. Since no one has prepared, a few people will share a few thoughts off the top of their heads but rarely are those insights helpful because no one has had time to think of anything meaningful, let alone anything related to their plans for the past 90 days.
However, in order for your quarterly reviews to be helpful, your evaluation needs to be grounded in your plans for that quarter. So, make sure you (and they) pull out your plans and your quarterly review documents ahead of time and then write out your ideas BEFORE you all meet.
With that background in place, here are the five questions you’ll want to ask and answer for your quarterly review every 90 days.
Note: the following questions aren’t meant to be original, they’re meant to be operational—which is what you should really care about.
Q1: What Worked?
Of the five questions, this one should be the easiest and quickest question to answer. Why? Because it doesn’t take long for most people to nod and say, “Great job!”
The key with this first question is to find things from your PLANS that worked.
- Did you hit some key metrics?
- Did you generate a new revenue stream?
- Did you complete a big project ahead of schedule and under budget?
- Did you knock out several 90 day plan objectives? Etc.
You don’t just want to list things like, “Joe did a great job hosting the summer picnic,” unless improving staff morale was a key objective for the quarter. Even better, if that were one of your objectives, you’d want to say, “As you may recall, staff morale at the end of Q1 was at a 3.2 level (which we all agreed was unacceptable). Well, I just received last week’s numbers and our hard work has paid off. The new Q2 numbers for morale came in at 4.4 on a 5.0 scale—or about 10% above our goal of 4.0!”
In other words, when you’re doing a quarterly review, you want to focus everyone’s comments for praise (i.e. what worked) on the plans for the quarter more than on generic ideas of good things that happened during the quarter. There are other places to acknowledge those kinds of good deeds. This is a quarterly review. So, focus on quarterly review items.
Q2. What Didn’t?
In general, this question will usually elicit more answers than question one. Why? Because it’s human nature to remember what didn’t work more than what did.
The key here, and this is similar to the first question, is to focus the conversation on big things that didn’t work (not little things).
- Did you miss a key metric by a large margin?
- Did a big project not even get started?
- Were there some train wrecks?
- We’re there some key growth accelerators or constraint eliminators that weren’t achieved?
- Was there an assumption made that turned out to not be true? Etc.
For example, you may have hired a new sales person on the assumption that they could hit X target in three months and they hit .3X (a third of that). Or maybe you said you wanted to create a systematic referral process that didn’t even get worked on. Or maybe you thought you’d generate an extra $350K in sales this quarter and you only generated $125K (or $225K behind budget). All of those items are worth mentioning. The fact that someone was supposed to repaint the bathroom or finish a new corporate identity package isn’t what you should be looking for (unless those items were part of your strategic plan).
I’d also encourage you to look back at your mission and vision statements. In light of who you say you are (your mission and core values) and what you want to be (your vision), are you falling short anywhere?
Q3. What Did You/We Learn?
I’m sure this is going to surprise you … but this is my favorite question. Why? Not just because I love learning but because failure only exists when we don’t learn the lesson. As long as we learn the lesson, a failure isn’t a failure, it’s a teachable moment.
For example, I was working with a bank several years ago. When we did their strategic plan, they assumed that interest rates were going to one way, the reality is they went the other way. So, the reason they missed their quarterly sales target wasn’t a sales related issue, it was an assumption issue. They hadn’t done enough due diligence on researching the Fed’s projections for the coming year so rather than just making an assumption about the Fed, they learned that thinking off the top of their heads was a bad idea (a great lesson for all of us). Research matters. Just because we think something should go one way doesn’t mean it’ll go that way.
Or maybe you came up with what you thought was a great marketing campaign and it failed miserably. You don’t just want to stop on question two and mark down what didn’t work as, “Marketing campaign for new service.” You want to dig into that and ask, “What did we learn?”
- Maybe the headline was off
- Maybe you hadn’t done enough research to uncover an urgent and compelling problem
- Maybe your campaign was too focused on you and the features of the service vs. the benefits to the customer
- Maybe the media choice was wrong. Maybe you used Facebook ads and discovered your target market spends more time on Linkedin than Facebook.
- Or maybe … You get the idea.
Question two unearths the problems. Question three unearths the learnings.
In addition, this is great time to reflect on what you learned from reading books, blog posts and magazines, listening to podcasts, attending webinars and conferences. What did you learn from all of that content that might be useable for the next quarter and helpful for everyone else to know?
Note: if you and your team can go 90 days without learning something that can help grow your business and make it better, then you’ve got another very big problem.
Q4: What Story Are Our Numbers Telling Us?
I don’t know about you, but I love data. Why? Because it always tells a story. If you haven’t watched my video on Leader Draft, make sure you do. But the reason I learned that lesson was because I was looking at the data. Something was off. At the time, we were growing 30.5% per year, every year for a decade. But one spring we flat-lined. To me, that was telling us something. So, I kept picking at the issue until I could uncover the problem (which, unfortunately, turned about to be me … oops!).
So, what story are your numbers telling you? Are your leads going up or not? Are you getting enough leads but not enough qualified leads? Are you bleeding cash? Are the numbers telling you you’re going to be out of cash if you don’t fix something? Are your numbers telling you that more and more of your customers love you? Or that they’re indifferent? Are people referring others to you or not? Is your A/R aging number going up or down? Are your utilization rates going up or down? What’s the data telling you?
More specifically, are your numbers telling you that a certain kind of customer is better than another kind? Are they telling you that one salesperson is doing infinitely better than another? Are they telling you that people in your market respond better to one kind of marketing tactic over all the others? Etc.
Numbers always tell a story. So, what are your numbers telling you?
Q5. What Could We Have Done Differently?
Based on all of the above, what could you have done differently this past quarter? In light of what you’ve learned and what the numbers are telling you, what could you have done differently?
This is also a good time to think about testing and optimizing. Maybe you hit a key metric (let’s say your quarterly revenue target) but you know that you could have exceeded it if you had done X differently. Or maybe you had a decent marketing campaign, but you think that based on what you’ve learned, if you tried to do Y, we could have achieved an even better result.
Some people have a hard time going back and thinking about doing something differently because they’re afraid to hurt someone else’s feelings. “Sally ran a good campaign. If I publicly say, ‘I think we could have done 30% better if we had done Z,’ she’ll be hurt (or defensive). So, I just better keep my mouth closed.”
However, that kind of thinking will always lead to suboptimal results and suboptimal businesses. If Sally can’t handle that kind of feedback, then Sally shouldn’t be a leader sitting at this table. Sally needs to grow up and the person who’s afraid to critique needs to grow up as well.
The only way to get to better results is to have a team of people who care for one another and who are willing to speak the truth because they’re not critiquing the person, they’re critiquing an idea so that the team can win at a higher level.
So, what could you have done differently over the past 90 days?
If you want to build a great company, there are a handful of practices that need to be executed on a regular basis—this is one of them. Every 90 days, BEFORE you start creating your next 90 day plan, you need to stop long enough to ask these five questions.
1. What worked?
2. What didn’t?
3. What did we learn?
4. What story are the numbers telling us?
5. What could we have done differently?
If you’ll get in the habit of asking and intelligently answering those five questions, you’ll be amazed at the results they’ll produce. Plus, if you keep asking them each quarter, you’ll quickly eliminate that frustration of moving from quarter to quarter without anything changing.
To your accelerated success!