If you want to achieve ambitious goals, the best time to become a superfan of quarterly planning is now.

A quarterly plan is a 90-day goal or project you want to tackle in an upcoming quarter. Quarterly plans have been a strategic tool for business leaders for decades. A three-month period is short enough that you can always see the finish line, but long enough to take on high-level objectives that support a company’s long-term goals and overall mission.

Key Takeaways

  • Quarterly planning focuses your professional or personal efforts.
  • Consider clearing time in your calendar in order to ensure an effective quarterly planning meeting, even if that meeting is just with yourself.
  • Also consider doing a pre-planning session in which you review past numbers and performance over the last quarter.
  • Capture your notes in a quarterly planning document so you can refer back to them often.

One quarterly planning session is all it will take to get you hooked. In this post, we’ll cover what focus areas to prioritize in your next quarterly plan session.

The History of the Quarterly Planning Process

The roots of quarterly planning can be traced back to the early 20th century, when corporations started to adopt more systematic approaches to management. Prior to this, business planning was more focused on an annual plan, with companies working off of yearly objectives and financial targets.

However, the industrial revolution and the emergence of complex, multi-faceted organizations demanded a more agile approach.

The Influence of Frederick Taylor

One of the pioneers in the development of systematic business management was Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is sometimes referred to as the "father of scientific management." In the early 1900s, Taylor introduced the concept of scientific management, which emphasized precise measurement and control of work processes.

Although Taylor himself didn't advocate for quarterly planning explicitly, his ideas laid the groundwork for a more data-driven and efficient approach to business operations.

Frederick Winslow Taylor was a leading voice in the idea of scientific management, which became popular in the early 20th century.

The Rise of Quarterly Earnings Reports

Quarterly planning received a significant boost with the introduction of mandatory quarterly earnings reports in the United States in 1970.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) implemented this requirement to enhance transparency and provide investors with more frequent updates on a company's financial performance. As a result, businesses began aligning their planning cycles with the reporting calendar.

The Agile Movement

In recent years, the agile movement has influenced how companies approach their quarterly meeting agenda and overall strategic intent.

Agile principles, initially developed in the software development industry, emphasize iterative planning, regular reviews, and adaptability. These concepts have been adopted by various industries, further solidifying the importance of shorter planning cycles, including quarterly planning.

Quarterly planning sounds pretty great, but it does require a smooth planning process in order to work well. Here’s what to do before, during, and after your next session.

Quarterly Planning Meeting Pre-Work

Your planning session is a time to reflect on your annual goals and long-term vision. To have the best brainstorming session you can, consider doing some pre-work that will help you make smart decisions about the next quarter or next three months.

Before diving into the quarterly planning process, take the time to analyze your past performance. Reviewing the successes and failures of the previous quarter can provide valuable insights and help you identify areas of improvement. Look at key metrics such as sales revenue, customer satisfaction, and employee productivity. By understanding what worked and what didn't, you can make more informed decisions and avoid repeating mistakes.

Consider pulling the following numbers from the past quarter:

  • Revenue, expenses, and profit.
  • Views, subscriptions, follower growth, and content output.
  • Webinar registrations, and/or discovery calls booked.

Also consider reviewing your calendar. How many new people did you meet? How many meetings did you typically have a day? How did you spend your time—and how did that feel?

Consider doing this metrics work at least one week prior to your company goals planning session. You’ll get a lot more out of your quarterly planning meeting if you do this.

During Your Session

I want you to think of your quarterly goals as “big rocks.” These are projects that would make a difference once completed, but will require multiple steps and are beyond what typically goes on a day-to-day checklist.

Examples of some of my past “big rocks” include:

  • Hire and train a virtual assistant.
  • Research and select a provider for a website overhaul.
  • Build a new automated onboarding system for clients.

Consider dividing your quarterly planning session into three parts: Ponder, prioritize, and plan.

  • Ponder: Reflect on what investments worked and didn’t work, both in terms of time and money.
  • Prioritize: Brainstorm some big rocks that would make sense to pursue, based on the key results you’re going after.
  • Plan: Map monthly and weekly checkpoints in your calendar that will ensure these quarterly projects happen. Make sure to leave some wiggle room!

Pro Tip:Don’t take on too many big rocks in one quarter. They should be big! Try to prioritize three projects or less per quarter.

If Working with a Team: Foster a Culture of Collaboration

If you have employees or managers, quarterly planning involves the entire team, so fostering a culture of collaboration and accountability is vital.

  • Encourage open communication, brainstorming, and idea sharing.
  • Regularly review and assess the progress of your initiatives and ensure that everyone is aware of their responsibilities.
  • Celebrate successes and learn from failures together.

By promoting a collaborative and accountable work environment, you create a strong foundation for achieving your quarterly goals.

After Your Quarterly Planning Meetings

Once you have established your objectives and completed your analysis, it's time to align your resources and prioritize tasks.

Determine the resources required to make progress on your big rocks. Assign responsibilities to your team members and ensure there is clear communication and coordination. By prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance, you can ensure each team member remains focused and on track.

Quarterly and Annual Planning Post-Work

As you work through the new quarter, review progress and take notes. Was your planning too aggressive, or too tame? Make necessary adjustments along the way, but also track progress. This information will help you be more precise in the planning process for future quarters.

Bottom Line

Quarterly planning is an integral part of driving success in any business. It’ll also help stave off burnout. Remember to set realistic targets and make adjustments as needed as you work to achieve goals and overall success. ◆

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