How to Close Your Business Plan Before the New Year

By Elise Ramia

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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.