In business, it is essential to know the path just traveled. Most organizations take a look back at the preceding 1-2 months to evaluate their financial results and attempt to make rhyme or reason of it. Lengthy discussions are had to either justify or explain the results—of which there is no way of amending. In my experience, given my 20+ years in corporate America, the majority of time spent is usually reviewing past performance.
Taking a look back is critical, but where I believe most organizations miss opportunity, is failing to spend greater time looking forward – to events and initiatives that they can truly influence. Learning from past events and results, organizations should adapt their upcoming initiatives to address or even enhance past performance. This is truly where a company can inspire fantastic results.
With an introduction of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) into their ongoing management practices, organizations can begin to transcend to a forward thinking, action organization rather than backward reviewing financial company. My rule of thumb is that organizations should look back one month and look forward three months. With every passing month, this sequence of review stays the same, re-forecasting three months in advance. This process enables a prudent organization to focus its energy on impacting future business, not wallowing in past performance. The numbers are what the numbers are and warrant review, but they will never change.
Know The Results: If you are sitting in a meeting discussing financials of the company from one or two months ago and the results are news to you, we have a problem. Systems and procedures are lacking at an organization if the results are communicated at the end of a month without any prior knowledge of trends or KPI’s. Processes need to be interjected along the way so that critical decisions can be made throughout the month and the review of the previous month is cursory at best. Leaving your team in the dark until the month-end meeting creates dependency, as opposed to prudent management.
Re-Forecast On The Fly: With your annual plan in hand, now is the time to learn from the first month’s results and re-forecast the next three months— both from a financial and initiative standpoint. Prior to the start of the annual plan, projections were based on expectations of the business. Now with a month in the books, re-forecasting to address shortfalls with newer initiatives should be employed. This strategy consistently keeps the business approach fresh and much like a coach making adjustments to their game plan at halftime, allows for reactions to the real business environment. At the end of subsequent month, the process repeats.
Inspire Solutions: Armed with data from the previous month and an enlightened team, collaborating on solutions for the upcoming three months should foster inspired targeted results. Create a culture that holds teammates accountable for past results, yet lifts their spirits with group participation on solutions. If the group can craft answers for previous issues, each team member has skin-in-the-game to ensure that the future results are met. Successful implementation and accountability begins to breed more and more solutions. It becomes an inspirational culture.
Plan For Success: As your team progresses throughout the year, more results should help to crystalize initiatives that are working and delete those that are not. By mid-year, this transformation of forward thinking should point the organization to greater and greater success on each and every new initiative. Process and content will be further refined and the success rate on deliverables should consistently improve. Over time, your team will “know the score” and hold each other accountable for delivering results in their respective areas of expertise.
Do It All Over Again: This isn’t a one-and-done endeavor, this is an ongoing process. The discipline of reviewing one month back and three months forward creates a culture at your organization that is forward-thinking. Over time, the organization will know results in real-time with an eye on focusing energy toward improving upon those results, not simply explaining them. The path of least resistance is waiting for results to happen and attempting to explain them. An organizational transformation to a forward-thinking mindset may unleash the true value of the enterprise.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 25 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.