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You have an annual plan. Now what?

The first month of 2021 is behind us, and I’ve spent a good deal of it meeting with clients to revisit the annual plan they created late last year. If you haven’t sat down to review your own goals for the new year, now’s a great time to pause and check in. And it’s not necessarily to check progress on those goals, but rather to bring them into the forefront. It’s a chance to look at them and ask, “Is this still what I want to accomplish this year?” And if so, “Am I on track to making each goal happen?”

If you created your 2021 annual plan, you know your goals—or at least what they were back in Q4. (If you didn’t create a plan, it’s not too late to get started.) Knowing what you want to accomplish this year is one thing, but implementing that plan is harder. For most of my clients, their favorite part of developing a plan isn’t the vision work or the relief of having set goals, but the practicality of knowing when and how they’ll accomplish them. It’s projectizing their goals, breaking down each goal into manageable and time-bound tasks that they can act on. Here are the four steps they take:

1. Reassess (and possibly revise) your annual plan

When you developed your 2021 annual plan, you created a baseline. You thought about the kind of impact you wanted your business to have this year, assessed your current business state, and set specific goals with time frames. Take another look at your plan now. What are the goals you set? Are they still what you want to achieve? Some things may have changed in the industry or for you personally that affect your plan. In this fast-changing environment, that’s totally possible. Remember, running a business means continuously innovating. Assess each goal again, and make any needed changes to each objective, action or timeline.

2. Track goal progress so far

Goal setting inspires my clients, giving them a sense that they’ve broken ground on developing their business. But too often, day-to-day demands quickly distract from the next step: planning. Their annual plan goes into a drawer and is forgotten. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. You can always recommit to your plan. On the other hand, if you’ve been actively working on your goal plan, bravo! Take a real look at how you’ve progressed on the goals you’ve set. Are you on track with your projected timeline? Do you need to adjust the timeline or the steps associated with the goal?

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3. Connect goals to projects and tasks

The keys to achieving your annual goals is to make them specific and break them down. Here’s an example:

Write clear goals

Setting a goal may seem basic. But the truth is, many people get it wrong from the very start by being too vague. Goals are results. They’re what you want to achieve. For example: “Hit $1M annually in sales.”

But what’s your sales strategy for reaching that number? And how will you know when you’ve achieved it? You need to make sure each goal is clear enough that you can objectively discern whether or not it happened. Have a look at these examples:

Vague: Improve efficiency in manufacturing.
Clear: Reduce waste to 2%.

Vague: Improve our culture.
Clear: Create a culture where we always do what we say, on time.

Make sense?

Break goals into projects

Once you have a goal, you need to have a plan to achieve that goal or else it’s just a daydream. A project is simply a group of related tasks designed to achieve a goal. Often, people put whole projects on their to-do lists instead of individual actions. Projects are not actionable—tasks are. 

Say one of your goals this year is to “Increase sales by 20%.” What are the projects that will create this result? The answer depends on your business. Maybe you know you have to increase leads—but still, that’s just a sub-goal. What are you actually going to do? If you know you need more leads, then one of your projects might be “Increase lead generation by launching a new referral reward program.” 

You may know all the projects you need to reach a goal, but start by brainstorming and writing down the ideas that come to mind. You won’t use all of them but from there, you can prioritize which ideas you’re going to implement. 

Divide projects into tasks

Tasks are actions. For you and your team to be most successful in beginning your projects, the supporting tasks must be specific and actionable. If your people aren’t clear what needs to be done in the task, they’ll often avoid it. And some tasks will need to be broken down into subtasks. In general, each goal should be broken down until what you have is a clear list of actionable tasks that ladder up—tasks that can be assigned, dated, tracked and measured. For example, if you have a specific revenue goal for 2021, one arm of your goal might look like this:

4. Set a recurring review date

Once you’ve gone through all these steps to thoroughly document your goal-planning and implementation process, what’s left is governance and review. It’s not enough to put dates on the calendar and hope for the best—set a reminder for yourself and for any supporting managers once a quarter to review your annual plan goals, track progress and make adjustments.

How is your annual planning process working so far? Please share your experience with setting goals, or any advice you have for fellow business owners in the comments below. If you’d like support with your goal setting from a business coach, reach out.

Catherine Pietrow

Written by Catherine Pietrow

Catherine Pietrow is an EMyth Business Coach with over 10 years experience helping business leaders manage and thrive through periods of growth and change. With special interest in change management, and people and leadership development, she loves the opportunity to guide her clients through the complexity of transforming their business.

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