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No April Fool’s here! Getting serious about quarterly planning, reviewing what went right (& wrong)

While it has the ring of an April Fool’s Day joke, the first quarter is now officially behind us. Where does the time go?! Now, we would be foolish to not take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded by approaching planning on a quarterly basis (and with great introspection). We can then leverage the unique opportunities presented by specific quarters, times of year and even “seasonality” to grow our personal nest eggs and business’s bottom line.

Getting to the bottom of quarter-centric planning

Aside from compliance requirements that may be specific to your organization, there are myriad benefits associated with organizing financial strategies, tracking, and reporting into more manageable “units” or three-month increments. Such an approach supports sound analyses and business intelligence. It may be much more feasible to track progress in given areas and to make savvy apples-to-apples (or even apples-to-oranges) comparisons when the year is broken down into chunks. Though we should certainly not throw the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater, as both quarterly and annual planning have their place within broader personal and business financial planning. In fact, it is the efforts and results garnered on a quarterly basis that propel the annual plan and strategy forward.

Not only is it easier for us to wrap our arms around 90 days versus 365 days, but quarters provide ample opportunity to review and readjust, to assess where we are “at’ and to nimbly account for our findings throughout the year. Without such ongoing assessments, problems could go under the radar. Under-performing areas may further deteriorate. It is so much easier when we can nip the source of the pain in the bud before it cuts a destructive and far-reaching path through the business over the course of several months.

Additionally, procrastination is universal. Quarter-to-quarter planning is the antidote. It can light a fire under us as individuals and as members of respective teams and departments. Going hand-in-hand with this notion, viewing goal-setting and progress through the lens of quarters is also extremely motivating. We are motivated with a clean slate, or to build upon recent successes. We know what those successes are, and we also know what needs to be done to reach our “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” popularized by motivational speakers. It is so much easier to visualize and to see the finish line when we have milestones or mile markers along the way to guide our way.

Understanding the unique nuances from quarter to quarter

The first quarter and, indeed, the first six months, are incredibly important to set the tone for the entire year and as organizations work toward their BHAGs. Furthermore, Q1 presents opportunities to build upon valuable feedback from a variety of different stakeholders, as a means of addressing what didn’t work and building upon the “good” to be even better in the new year. As individuals, we know how invigorating a fresh start can be. As leaders, owners, managers and team members, we can seize upon that once-a-year feeling to begin to deliver on our vision for the next 12 months (and beyond). We are providing the strong scaffolding to build out the strategies that ultimately fulfill that vision, quarter by quarter, throughout the year.

Depending on how you “treat” Q1 from the get-go and with the seriousness that it deserves, you can either make or break the rest of the year. But, again, by breaking strategies and efforts down into quarters, there is some easing of that intense pressure to get off to a robust start as well. While there may not be the opportunity for complete “do-overs,” at least you will have the room and breathing space to review and assess for areas for adjustment every three months. When you adjust as needed, you may be able to stave off the slow downfall that could occur without proper recognition and nurturing of the business’s plans periodically.

Now that we are embarking on Q2, consider the following:

  • It is not too late to launch or kickstart aspects of the business that may have received some push-back or didn’t get the attention they deserved toward the end of the year, due to the frenzy of the holiday season. The earlier in the year that you can give these efforts a solid go or re-launch them, the more receptive employees may be to changes (and they may even appreciate the new perspective associated with these changes!).

  • Let Q1 inform the fresh quarter. After all, this quarter is unique in that it sets the base not only for the succeeding quarter but also for the entire year. There is no month like now to compare your progress toward achieving goals established in January. Be sure to give credit where credit is due, as such praise and knowledge of progress among team members will only further their commitment to the cause, and will provide much-needed inspiration when inevitable challenges arise.

  • Likewise, it may be time to “get real.” Perhaps, upon seeing the metrics, a goal that may have seemed feasible at the start of the year may in actuality be a bit too audacious. Again, this doesn’t mean that you throw the idea out entirely. Maybe, all that needs to be done is to revise the timeframe a bit. Instead of setting certain milestones in the second quarter, it may be more feasible to shoot for Q3. And, if something seems to be a little too easy for your team, maybe you are not being audacious enough! Go big. Adjust accordingly.

  • Be intentional in clearly identifying and communicating how you are committed to improving upon Q1 in the new quarter. This is an especially critical point when making adjustments to first quarter plans. You need to receive confirmation from all of the appropriate parties and stakeholders that they “got the memo” and are aware of the changes. Otherwise, upon review of Q2, you may find yourself in a familiar and stagnating situation.

  • Learn from your mistakes. It has often been said that failure is a great educator. We learn the best from when we are seemingly at our worst. Take special care to understand those areas of weakness, which may have come up short in terms of results. We can often glean a great deal from those shortfalls or disappointments, and can then apply these hard-won, experiential insights toward our planning in the new quarter. There is a great deal of wisdom to be had from seemingly negative experiences or performance, as they often put a spotlight on truths about your business, team, or industry that otherwise may have remained persistently in the dark.

And, just as you did for Q1, continue to measure and lean into those metrics! Also, consider other metrics or indicators of progress or performance. Are you relying too heavily on one metric, without properly considering a whole new area of your business? There are so many different ways to measure success that go beyond broad generalizations about the obvious: sales and monthly profits and losses. These indicators should also “speak” directly to your priorities and strategies in the given quarter, which as always should align ultimately with the “big picture” annual goals and priorities.

And think of our team at O’Donnell, Ficenec, Wills & Ferdig as your accountability partners -- whether you are working toward a BHAG on the personal front or embarking on the next big entrepreneurial adventure. We have partnered with individuals and businesses for around three-quarters of a century. As a true partnership, we do not confine ourselves to annual plans or requirements. Your journey to improved performance, results and the financial health that feeds into your overall wellbeing is a year-round commitment and effort, which flows from a sustained relationship and open, ongoing communication. Like the quarterly approach to planning, we help our partners to first visualize and then realize their unique goals -- in Q1, Q2 and well beyond in the calendar year, as well as wherever life takes them.

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