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.