I’m writing this blog on one of the most inefficient inventions ever created.
Typewriters in the 1870s were physical things that used ribbons and moving parts, and if the keys were typing letters too quickly things would get jammed up. Legend has it, that’s how the QWERTY keyboard was born in 1878: to slow us down.
This led two professors to invent the Dvorak keyboard in the 1930’s, which houses 70% of letter strokes on the central row of the keyboard. It took over half a century, but by reviewing what had come before, Dealy and Dvorak had created a better method for moving forward which is used by millions today.
Your business doesn’t have half a century to question assumptions, measure previous actions, and redesign things, so here are four things successful companies do each quarter to ensure they are ready for what comes next: review both short- and long-term company-wide goals, evaluate employee goals, and celebrate successes.
Review quarterly business goals
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”― Søren Kierkegaard
What’s true of life is also true of company goals, and they must be understood before new ones are drawn up. Google reflects on their company objectives at the end of every quarter, giving each one a score from 0 to 1 and classing as ‘successful’ any which score 0.8 or higher.
As a quarter ends, are you reviewing each of your company priorities – scoring them, and digging into the details of how you achieved them or why you fell short? Understanding why a goal wasn’t reached can be just as informative as why another goal was, often even more so. As Tolstoy famously wrote at the start of Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” and understanding where things went wrong can be equally informative in both literature and business.
Review annual/long-term business goals
Having short-term, quarterly goals is essential in the fast-paced modern world, but focusing solely on what’s right in front of you can lead a company, and its workers, to lose sight of the bigger picture.
The end of the quarter is a great time to make sure that your quarterly priorities are (still) aligned with your annual objectives. There is no point in ticking off all the things on your To-Do list this quarter if they are not helping you achieve your longer-term goals. That is the business equivalent of ‘The Streetlight Effect’ – looking for your car keys under the streetlight, not because that’s where you may have lost them, but because that’s where it’s easiest to look!
Make the connection between current projects and how they are moving your business forward, and ensure that the next round of projects is building towards your annual goals, as well as checking in on those annual goals and making sure they are still relevant.
Review employee goals
Once you have reviewed company goals, both short and long-term, it’s time to dig down to individual performance. It’s no longer enough to have annual performance reviews with employees: if they’re having problems or underperforming in Q1, you don’t want to wait until Q4 to find out!
Many companies find that ongoing performance management is the solution – regular one-on-one meetings (weekly seems to work best ) keep everyone informed and on the right track, with a special focus on achievements at the end of each quarter. Did they hit all of their targets? If not, why not? If so, were they too easy?
Looking back each quarter on individual targets will help to ensure that each employee is neither underachieving nor taking on too much. Many workers even find that tracking their own progress helps to hold themselves accountable to what they promised to achieve.
According to writer Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plots in the world, from literature to movies to everyday lives. Any story will be a reworking of one of these archetypal structures, and the first three of them are ‘Overcoming the Monster,’ ‘Rags to Riches,’ and ‘The Quest.’
Those may sound familiar to anyone who has had a tough quarter.
Once the story is over, however, it’s time to celebrate. Star Wars wouldn’t be the same without the medal ceremony at the end; and by the conclusion of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is celebrating his new outlook on life by giving Bob Cratchit a raise and becoming “…as good a man as the good old city knew.”
Celebrating success is a key motivational factor, both psychologically and physically. It can be something as simple as a (virtual) high five, or recognition for a coworker’s hard work or achievement; a shout-out in front of the whole team in a daily or weekly meeting; or a team-wide reward for hitting your targets.
Having a company- or department-wide theme can help to unify teams around a topic or idea, and can also guide the kind of celebration you can have once the hard work is done.
Setting goals for yourself and your company, and then ignoring them when it’s time to set new goals, isn’t smart. If you’ve missed some goals, either as an individual or as a business, there’s still time to readjust and stay on track to achieve your bigger goals.