This is the time of year for both reflecting on the past and planning for the future. As the calendar year winds down, many small business owners use this relatively slow time of year to set goals for the year ahead with an annual goals meeting.
Coming up with budgets, forecasts, and goals for an entire year can feel not just ambitious, but impossible. How will you know what your business will look like in June, much less December of next year?
Setting annual goals is important, however, even if you fall short of your own expectations (or blow right past them). Without benchmarks for each team member or the business as a whole, you’ll lack a sense of direction, or the strength to push on when the going gets tough. You also won’t know what expenses you can forgo the next year, or what investments you need to make to get your numbers where they need to be.
So if you’re feeling daunted by the task of setting and running an annual goals meeting, it’s understandable—but don’t despair. Here are six tips on how to run a goals meeting effectively:
1. Dedicate a full day to your annual goals meeting
Setting goals for the next 12 months is serious business and requires your undivided attention. But because planning for months down the road doesn’t feel like it’s productive in the moment (i.e., it’s not making you any sales this week), some people try to jam it in alongside the rest of their work. Have a few minutes before a meeting? Why not update that spreadsheet for next year?
This “context switching,” however, kills your productivity: It can take you 25 minutes, on average, to get back to a task after you let something interrupt you, from taking a phone call to tackling a different project altogether.
Rather than drawing out the process of annual goal planning, not to mention disrupting your daily workflow, put aside an entire day dedicated solely to this task. That may seem like a lot of time not spent “working,” but this investment of your time is worth it. Accept the cost of bringing employees in on an off day, or suspend normal operations during the work week, but whatever you do, get people to come to this meeting with a clear schedule. This might also mean catering breakfast and lunch to keep people in seat and focused.
If you finish early? Great. If not, you’ll be glad you gave yourself all this time to plan.
2. Create an agenda and stick to it
As the leader, it’s up to you to dictate how you’ll spend this valuable time. Don’t just gather everyone in the conference room, plop down, and say, “Great, so what are we doing?”
Set an agenda before the meeting, outlining the amount of time you’ll spend on each task, when you’ll break for lunch, and what you’re expecting each person to have ready when the time comes to discuss each topic. When it’s time to move on, move on—you can return to outstanding issues once everything has been covered. Otherwise, you might find yourself needing yet another day to plan.
3. Define your OKRs and outline a plan for hitting them
Objectives and Key Results, also known as OKRs, is a common framework for setting big-picture goals that everyone in the company can work toward. Companies like Google and Twitter are known for using OKRs.
OKRs should be simple, clear, and easy to build additional “tactical” OKRs off of in order to accomplish each goal. An example of an objective for an OKR is: “Increase revenue by 100%.” In order to do this, your sales, marketing, and operations teams may set additional team-specific OKRs that, when put together, will boost revenue to 100% and beyond.
Come up with at least three OKRs for the company as a whole, then work to create additional tactical OKRs for each team that are ambitious without being unrealistic. Keep in mind that reaching an OKR is not always the point—getting to 60% to 70% of an OKR should still be considered a success. If you reach an OKR with ease, you weren’t aspirational enough.
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4. Set aside time for discussing personal goals
Company-wide goals are important and—let’s face it—the reason you’re having this meeting in the first place.
That’s not to say that verbalizing and formalizing personal goals for team leaders and management isn’t an important part of setting annual goals. The personal and professional development of your team is crucial to your business’s long-term success, so don’t overlook it.
Give your team the encouragement and impetus to come up with personal goals, whether that’s developing new skills, being a better manager to their direct reports, or better organizing their time so they can take much-needed paid time off when the time comes.
5. Don’t forget about culture and communication
Running a business is about a lot more than making sales and finding more customers. As your small business grows—even from just one person to two, or from five to 25—it’s important to take stock of how your team communicates and relates to one another.
What tools do you use to keep track of projects? How do you maintain visibility cross-functionally? How often should you meet to discuss progress on your OKRs? And then there’s that ongoing question that plagues almost every business: Did we really need to call a meeting to discuss that when an email or Slack message would have been fine? Everything about how, when, and why you communicate should be up for review in this meeting.
Additionally, making plans around developing and maintaining culture is also an important point of order. Money and benefits might be how you attract talent, but culture is how you keep talent. Putting aside time and capital for events, parties, volunteer opportunities, and fringe benefits like office snacks can go a long way toward improving employee retention and happiness.
6. Don’t forget to celebrate afterward
If you dedicated an entire day to planning for the future, and did so successfully, congratulations—it’s time to celebrate. Take your team out for drinks and/or dinner afterward to show your appreciation for their dedication to the cause. This is an excellent way to put your money where your mouth is when it comes to culture and communication. It’s time to build that culture and communicate with each other as humans, not just as coworkers.
Giving your team this reward is a good way to motivate them for the task of planning the future of your business. Don’t overlook it!
There are lots of other little things you can do to make sure your annual goals meeting runs smoothly. Take lots of breaks so people stay engaged. Ensure you have buy-in from everyone on the agenda before you proceed. Give each team member the chance to voice concerns or offer alternatives to certain OKRs.
An annual goals meeting is an ambitious undertaking, but it’s well worth the time and effort to make sure everyone is on the same page heading into the new year. Now, it’s time to plan the company retreat.
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