All Posts by Elise Ramia

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How to Close Your Business Plan Before the New Year

By Elise Ramia

How to Close Out Your Business Plan Before the New Year

As we approach the new year, many plans start to wrap up. Goals get achieved, tasks get completed, and thoughts of a bright new year come more into focus. Before we make the shift to next year’s plans however, it’s vital to look at the past accomplishments and unsuccessful or unfinished outcomes from the prior year’s plan.

Reviewing your plan and officially closing it out helps with a couple of things. We stand to learn from our past to ensure our bright future. By reviewing each initiative we learned, 1. what worked, and how to do more of that, and 2. what failed, and – if it’s worthy to continue – how we can fix it for this year.

The final thing we gain from following the steps below is ensuring our plan for the coming year doesn’t fall susceptible to false and optimistic timelines. Most leaders are victims of the Planning Fallacy, or assuming timelines will move more quickly than reality. Data from past performance is the best indicator for assigning reliable due dates, and your enterprise will benefit from setting realistic expectations.

In my work with customers of all sizes across industries, below are the most effective (and necessary!) steps to closing out your plan in preparation for beginning a new plan.

Tip #1: Evaluate Along the Way – Don’t Wait Until the End of the Year

Your plan is your organization’s roadmap to success. Whether your plan looks similar year over year, or if you’re scrapping the whole plan for a new one, it’s crucial that you evaluate.

Evaluation commonly takes place at the end of a fiscal year. However, my top performing customers constantly evaluate. Their big review at the end of the year becomes much easier because executives are familiarized with the plan, its performance as work was happening, and the people and resources that have been involved along the way.

Your plan should be a living, breathing document that constantly changes to adapt to changes in market/competitors/regulations. Leaders who review their plan’s performance quarterly or monthly are able to adjust tactics along the way, creating a plan that looks a lot different than the plan created at the beginning of the year.

Tip #2: Get Time on Calendars for Your End-of-Year Meeting EARLY

Holding an end of year/closing out your plan meeting will not only allow you to recognize those who have excelled on your team, but will also set you up for a more successful and productive planning phase for the new year.

End-of-year meetings create momentum and excitement around starting fresh, but it’s better for everyone to review what you’ve accomplished as an enterprise to give context to your new plan and where you’re headed in the future.

However, calendars fill up FAST, especially at the end of the year. It’s very important to have all the necessary leaders in the room, so go ahead and send that meeting invite…yesterday.

Bonus: Have people come prepared to the meeting. Make sure all initiatives in the current plan are marked completed: achieved, not achieved, or canceled. These status lights are important in understanding work that was completed, goals not met in time, and initiatives that deemed no longer fit into the definition of success.

By doing this ahead of time, you can spend the time in the meeting actually focused on the outcomes and how that impacts your plan for the following year.

Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Cancel It

A commonly underutilized status is “canceled,” although it holds great value.

A canceled status commonly means this is an initiative that was thought, at one point, important and would allow your team to achieve a goal. However, by the end of the year, it never aligned with the measurement of success or the resources, and time needed to execute are not available. This is super important information!

When I see “canceled” in plans, I see a marker that customers are scrutinizing their plan throughout the year and recognizing the limitations of their resources. Don’t be afraid to select that canceled status and know you can always reevaluate this initiative and possibly roll in into next year’s plan.

Tip #4: If It Isn’t Finished, Roll it Over

Ideally, many of your plan items fall into one of those three categories (achieved, not achieved, or canceled), but there may be some initiatives that are still in flight or have been earmarked to flow into next year.

With these initiatives still in progress, you’ll need to evaluate whether or not they align with next year’s major plan goals. If so, you may need to do some configuring to move these items over to another plan (AchieveIt has a feature that allows you to do this seamlessly without having to recreate a new plan item).

Now that you have items in a completed status, or have moved those in progress items into another plan, what do you do with all this great data?

Tip #5: Use Your Data to Tell Your Story

Creating reports and dashboards that tell the story of your enterprise’s accomplishments is a great way to educate stakeholders in the strategic planning process.

And, even outside of wrapping up your plan, continue to use automated reports and custom dashboards to give executives insight into your work as it’s happening. Especially if many of your initiatives are tied to employee compensation, capital campaigns, or major projects, there will be an even greater interest in sharing this data more frequently. Develop a regular, frequent cadence to send out automated reports and links to at-a-glance dashboards to leaders for easy insight into initiatives’ performance for faster, more informed decision-making.

Many customers will utilize these reports and dashboards during next year’s planning retreat. Starting the first day of the retreat, they review last year’s plan at a high level, in an easily digestible dashboard format. This always generates great conversation and sense of accomplishment setting them up for next year’s planning on day two.

If a planning retreat isn’t a part of your agenda for the year, I recommend making time during a standing meeting or sending out a survey to your team to get feedback on the year and brainstorm ideas for next year.

Tip #6: Use these Questions to Generate the Right Conversation

Keep your end-of-year meeting on track by asking these questions to generate the right conversation:

– What did we accomplish? What allowed us to be successful?
– Did the initiatives that we selected allow us to reach our goals?
– Why did we miss these goals? What can we do differently next year?
– If we missed our goal, do these initiatives support the overall goal?
– Did we meet our deadlines and achieve timelines?
– Is work appropriately spread across teams? How much does each person have on their plate?

Pro Tip for AchieveIt Users: The Multiplan view report gives you an easy way for you to answer many of these questions. The view allows you to get a visual representation of your plan’s success, highlighting missed due dates, late updates, and current status lights.

Tip #7: Create Backups!

Now that you’ve done great work throughout the year, we want to make sure you save all this information. However you do it, make sure to save it in several places – in the cloud, on a physical memory device, on your computer, email it to people, etc.

Pro Tip for AchieveIt Users: AchieveIt gives the ability to archive your plans, so you’ll always be able to go back to a plan when needed. Archiving allows you to put that plan on the shelf and come back to it when needed for reference or historical data. Another option would be to export your plan out of AchieveIt and save the file on your desktop. Then, when you’re ready to create next year’s plan, you can edit the prior year’s plan in Excel to make any changes and then reimport it into the new plan.

Learn from Your Successes and Your Failures – It’s All Important!

Closing out last year’s plan is a vital process in your strategic planning process and should not be overlooked.

Understanding your prior year’s successes and challenges will allow you to better map out your future, identifying what initiatives create the desired impact and others that are not so important.

AchieveIt provides many tools and reports that allow you to easily grab a snapshot of your accomplishments as well as customized plan optimization and facilitation services.

How to Prepare for the Post-Implementation Lull

By Elise Ramia

How to Prepare for the Post-Implementation Lull

As I work with customers from all different types of organizations and industries, I realize more and more how similar each implementation process is. Without fail, there is always one thing teams going through change will experience – The Trough of Disillusionment. Sounds scary, but it’s a completely normal part of any transformation process.

At the start of an implementation, there’s excitement. The team has high expectations, tight timelines, and aggressive goals. But a few weeks post-launch, users hit their first couple of road blocks. Features may not work as expected, or the high expectations weren’t met. Champions of the change and team members alike become frustrated and begin to lose hope.

Unfortunately, this happens to everyone. But fortunately, there are ways to coach your team through whatever process you’re changing or new tool you’re implementing by letting them know what to expect. When you eventually get to the Trough of Disillusionment in your process (see the curve below), your team will know what to expect and how to manage it.

Peak of Inflated Expectations

There are four tools I give our AchieveIt customers to use when preparing to tackle the Trough of Disillusionment. Those strategies are: keep a pulse on your people, communicate clearly, understand exactly what motivates your team, and practice patience.

And the final tip? If you find yourself in this position, the most helpful thing is to know that you’re not alone in experiencing the downfall after the hype. And, since you’re not the first one to experience this, there are a couple of things that can help get you to the other side.

Keep a Pulse on Your People: Temperature Check

Not sure if your team is loving the new process or software? Ask them.

Sometimes change champions think things are worse than they are. There’s a lot riding on the line to implement this change, so why wouldn’t you expect the worst? (It’s okay; we’re all a little paranoid and we all do this.)

When I’m talking to customers who are at this point, I ask them to look for the silver lining. It’s important to start with the facts by conducting a temperature check.

Many times, I work with champions that feel like their team is struggling with adoption, but when we take a closer look, they are adopting quite well. It’s still a great idea to check in with them, just to get a full understanding of where they’re at, but this is your best-case scenario.

Worst-case scenario is that you find out your team is struggling. But with a temperature check, you can find out what is actually causing them to go through the Trough of Disillusionment. It’s important as a leader to fully understand the barriers your team is facing.

Temperature checks can come in many forms, but most commonly I recommend sending out an anonymous survey to your team with the following questions:

• What are some things that you’re successfully able to achieve using the new software?

• Are there features and functionality of the software that you’re struggling with, or for which you need clarification or additional training?

• Do you feel the software has become a part of your day-to-day process?

• If not, what’s hindering you from the software becoming part of your daily operations?

These questions will allow you to diagnosis the issue further. Temperature checks can help change champions figure out if it’s a product education issue, a lack of process integration, etc.

Another thing some of our customers also include in check-ins are analyzing measurements of success. Ideally, some KPIs are determined at the beginning of implementation that would indicate success, so you can use them as a benchmark throughout. (Even if you haven’t identified them ahead of time, it’s never too late.) However, keep in mind that the metrics will never fully uncover the change management barriers, but map out the symptoms of having hit the Trough of Disillusionment.

Communicate Expectations Ahead of Time and at Every Point Throughout

The most important key to successfully managing change is communication. Speak with empathy – change is difficult and scary.

As the change champion, you need to be in constant communication with the executive sponsor, your team, any other key stakeholders – and then don’t forget about your Customer Success Manager (CSM), or the vendor who is leading the implementation from the new process/software side.

Before the implementation even starts, touch base with each of your groups about:

• Expectations of how this change will fall into their current process

• The desired return on investment and how that will be reached

• Each team member’s involvement in the process and launch

• What the change management cycle is like, all the feelings and challenges they might go through, and how (and to whom) to communicate what they’re feeling when they’re going through the Trough of Disillusionment
– and then be sure to reiterate and follow up with each of these items at every step along the way.

I commonly see organizations talk through about half of these crucial points. I think that’s because leaders may feel hindered by internal silos or are afraid of disappointment. It’s easy to focus solely on potential negative outcomes, but the more leaders doubt themselves, the less likely the change is going to take hold.

Focus on the positive! Think about when the change is implemented – all eyes will be on how much you’ve changed the organization for the better! Change champions who fully commit to leading the team through a new process change have a much higher success rate and have the opportunity to receive much more recognition for all their hard work.

One of the communication best practices we adhere to when launching an implementation with a customer onsite is reviewing action items at the end of the day. We go around, person by person, to ensure everyone is clear on their role within the software, and in the change process overall. We achieve this by making time during the training to give each person time to practice completing their tasks within the software, so they feel confident and empowered to continue to complete those tasks outside of the room.

Additionally, I suggest making time to gather your team to discuss and work on the platform, in the same room, outside of formal training hours. It’s vital to not only verbally communicate the expectation of their participation in the process, but also support your team by making learning the new process a collective priority and making time to learn the new software together.

Another biggie for communication – get executive buy-in. Communication from the C-suite or other well-respected individuals within your organization will take your message a long way.

And one final note (and the biggest one) about communication: the message that many organizations don’t always consider is to reassure employees of what will not be changing.

Commonly in the change management process, we see a lot of resistance born out of fear of the unknown. Employees worry about the effects this change will have on the organization’s identity, their own job, and how different their daily operations are going to be. Employees have an attachment to their organization’s identity because it is seen as a reflection on themselves.

HBR recently published an article that dives into how employees identify and care for their organizations so, a lot of change can create fear and uncertainty.

When rolling out your change, focus on which parts of the process will stay the same after implementation. Understanding, as the change leader, that your team is connected to the mission and identity of your organization will help you better navigate through the Trough of Disillusionment, allowing your team to come out successful on the other side.

Know What Motivates Your People

Better understanding your team’s motivation factors is crucial to success with change management. What motivates and excites your team to make them more engaged in the process? If you don’t know that your team responds better to recognition and incentives, and you’re applying deadlines and consequences, you’re speaking different languages and your change process runs the risk of people derailing into unacceptance.

Two ways I typically see that keep employees motivated is through social exposure and influence. No two teams are the same, but these are methods that I recommend as a first line of defense.

For contributors, knowing that reports will be reviewed in front of leadership monthly, checking for data as well as compliance to the new process, is very motivating for most users. Not wanting to be the person called out for fear of social and professional discomfort creates action and involvement.

Another tactic is to identify the first follower. Ideally this is someone who has latched on to the new process and is a well-known and respected person within the organization. Exalting this person as an evangelist for the new process will increase engagement and generate more conversation.

Ultimately, getting your people on board and treating the process with consistency will create not only participation, but will also help your team feel committed to see the new process be successful.

Practice Patience

Change takes time and patience. You won’t arrive at your implementation goals immediately. You must remain persistent in finding solutions at every crossroads. No implementation process occurs without a couple of hiccups, but if you, as the change champion, keep in close contact with your CSM, team, and stakeholders, you can lead your team to a more successful future.

However, you do have to hold yourself to a timeline. If you reach the end of your implementation goal timeline and your change still isn’t adopted, it’s time to have a frank conversation with your team. It may be the last push your team needs to fully commit to the change.

During this conversation, educate your team on what they are experiencing (feeling beaten by the tool, scared of letting go of the “old way,” the software not doing everything they’d hoped), validate that those feelings as being totally normal, and give them an opportunity to express their frustrations and concerns. Being heard by others is sometimes just what we need to move forward with a resolution.

Close the conversation by reiterating the importance of the implementation, resources that are available to assist them, and how it will not only make a big impact on the organization but help them individually in their workflow. If you need to, you can also throw in the appeal to logic that there’s no turning back to save all the resources and energy that have been funneled into the change already.

I’ve seen several customers get to this end of the road, where they feel the have exhausted all options, but every time we’ve still been able to make the change by having a true and honest conversation.

The Trough of Disillusionment is Only a Dip!

The implementation process can be a roller coaster ride with some challenging moments. But by effectively communicating, understanding your team, sticking with it, and creating opportunities for honesty and transparency, you will be able to come out of the other side, and the “new way” will soon be the “way of doing things.”

How Often Should I Review My Strategic Initiatives?

By Elise Ramia

How Often Should I Review My Strategic Initiatives?

I hear this question all the time.

As a customer success manager, I work with AchieveIt customers to continuously optimize their processes and uncover the best ways to use the AchieveIt platform to help reach their goals. These leaders are always asking about what best practices other AchieveIt champions are adhering to – how they can best use the tool, create a culture of execution, report using more accurate data, etc.

The question that comes up more than any other is, “What is the magic number of times to gather reporting updates for my plan?” Or, “How often do other AchieveIt users review their initiatives, and what frequency works best?”

The short answer is – if you’re collecting updates with a regular cadence at all, you’re on the right track.

The long and disappointing answer is, there is no magic number. Each AchieveIt customer uses a different update frequency that works for their organization.

However, there are baby steps you can take today to help you find your organization’s update frequency that works best. Depending on where you lie on the scale below, here are some ideas to help reach the next level of efficacy in tracking and monitoring your plans.

“We’re still trying to wrap our heads around status reporting.”

We all know metrics are the key to giving us a good scoreboard. Without knowing how we’re doing, we don’t know where to go.

However, creating comprehensive reporting is daunting. It’s not uncommon to focus your sights too high-level (annual revenue) or too low-level (number of daily visitors to your website). Without an informative snapshot of some key metrics in between, your ability to make better decisions is a lost cause.

If you’re in this stage, take two steps back and look at the KPIs in your plan. When you report on your initiatives’ progress, ask for updates on each of those KPIs and stop there. Focus on those 3-5 metrics only.

If, after a while, you decide including more measurements would be helpful, you can tack them on to your custom dashboard little by little instead of overwhelming your leadership team with too much information.

Also, read this post for a gut-check on whether or not the KPIs in your plan are built the most informative way possible.

“We pull status reports pretty regularly, but they take so long to compile.”

If you’re stuck in this stage, you’re in a war with spreadsheets we call “Excel Hell.”

My customers usually come to me having used a variety of methods for gathering progress updates before making the decision to use AchieveIt. Most have used some process that includes a combination of sending emails, updating an Excel document, or taking screenshots to add to a PowerPoint – but most of the time-consuming activity stems from the classic chase-down-in-the-break-room technique to make sure people are providing the updates you need.

A lot of this struggle comes down to the fact that there’s no one person (or worse, 2-5 people) being held accountable for providing progress reporting. Without one single person being the sole team member responsible for providing insight into progress, your system falls apart. And this is why you end up chasing people down in the breakroom to send you what you need.

Furthermore, this manual process takes so long to execute, that by the time the information is neatly compiled into a digestible format, it’s already out of date. Not to mention the fact that manually inputting data from one document into another provides room for error, so the outdated information you’re looking at could also be inaccurate.

If you’re in this stage, in order to get timely, accurate data that allows you to understand how your organization is tracking towards your goals – start with assigning one person to provide updates for each item. No more, no less. Once that expectation is set, you can start to more frequently ask your team for progress updates, and it should start to take less and less time to compile information you need to make decisions.

“We have a solid reporting structure, but we’re not good at pulling reports regularly.”

This stage is defined by an organization that knows who needs to pull what metrics and how they reflect growth, but you’re suffering from chronic inconsistency.

If you’re like many others that fall prey to chronic inconsistency, you deprioritize status updates. Maybe you let a week go by on the due date. The next month you may skip asking for updates because it seems like you’re still on track. By allowing your due dates to differ every time they come around, your ability to make proactive decisions disappears, because the process isn’t built into the work flow of your team.

Those suffering in this stage should implement a set cadence and stick to it. Whether you’re too frequent or infrequent, your cadence can be adjusted to fit the needs of your organization – but your biggest opportunity for success here is to keep your calendar unwavering, so you can rely on your data when you need it.

“We hold status update meetings monthly/quarterly so we can see our progress and make adjustments that will keep us on a path towards success.”

Bingo, this is ideal. Whether you’re checking the status of your most important initiatives and assessing them quarterly, monthly, or even bi-weekly, your set cadence should help your accountable parties provide the metrics you need to make better decisions.

If you still need to adjust between those best practice update cadences, ask yourself some questions.

Are you surprised by the updates you’re seeing at each check-in? Maybe increase the frequency of reporting. If the metric you’re tracking is trending more quickly in between monthly updates, for instance, start to check in bi-weekly and see if that provides the fluctuation insight you’re looking for.

Are your numbers pretty much staying the same? If you’re meeting monthly and your big target growth numbers don’t seem to moving, try adjusting your updates to take place further apart – quarterly. Sometimes a little perspective can help you spot trends over time.

However, don’t fall into the trap of asking for updates less frequently just because it’s easier on those providing metrics. If you wait too long in between updates, you could lose insight in lieu of hindsight which doesn’t give you enough time or agility to adapt.

Monthly Updates Are Most Common Among My Customers

In my experience, customers who request progress updates on a monthly cadence are the most successful in getting accurate data without bothering the individuals. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but people will provide updates as long as they’re useful and helping the organization make better decisions. With this steady stream of up-to-date data, these leaders are more equipped to give a clear progress report.

I’ll reiterate – one size does not fit all. I encourage customers to look at the rhythm in their business. Evaluate how often your teams meet (leadership, departments, etc.) and when you meet. Do you have enough information to have a focused and productive meeting? Is your rhythm of updates optimized for today’s business environment?

If you’ve read through this article and don’t quite fit anywhere, there is no need to panic. Even if your organization is only gathering data every 6-12 months, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take some of these small steps to build your success.

My final recommendation is to reach out to others in your industry (or maybe industry-adjacent to avoid competitor situations) to see how often they’re checking progress. Start there and see if you can find the magic number of status meeting frequency for your organization to allow more proactive decision making.