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  • Writer's pictureTalbott Team

Ditch the Annual Goals and Adopt 90-Day Plans

Author: Heather Rolinski Dilworth, VP of Talent Management, Talbott Talent

Do your annual goals go by the wayside like abandoned New Years’ Resolutions? Does your team never seem to accomplish annual milestones even with the end-of-the-year sprints to get there? If so, it’s time to switch to 90-Day Goals.

As an executive coach and organization strategist helping leaders grow, I’ve seen how approaching every 90 days like a new year changes everything. It puts targets in perspective, making them feel more immediate. Annual goals are too abstract in the day-to-day, whereas the 90-day timeframe creates a sense of drive for your employees.

With 90-Day Goals, you still have a long-term vision and long-range plans. Rather than determine goals for a 12-month calendar year, you treat every 90 days as equally important and critical, which shifts the perspective to now while working toward the future.

Traditionally, when the new year starts, everyone comes back from their respective holidays and it takes a few weeks to get everyone together and finalize the annual plan.

You may have started this the previous October or November, but essentially you are dusting it off and getting plugged back in.

You take a month or two to get things squared away, and in many large organizations, employees don’t enter their individual goals until February or even March. And in smaller organizations, goals may not be officially created at all. Two or three months have ticked by with a lot of work, but no real accomplishments. You have nine months left to tackle a mountain of work and earn that performance rating and if you’re lucky, a bonus. 

By the time the end of the third quarter approaches, teams realize they only have a few more months to achieve all of their commitments.

So everyone is stressed, scrambling and making up for inefficiencies and lack of productivity. Add on personal stressors as everyone gets ready for their respective holidays, and the cycle repeats itself. So how can you ensure that you and your teams are consistently knocking it out of the park?

It’s time to adopt 90-Day Goals. Here are four steps to make sure you have the right goals and take the right action.

1. Support Long-Term Vision

Your 90-Day Goals should support the long-term vision you have for your organization. These goals should be large enough that they push you toward the vision, but not too large that they are unmanageable in a 90-day period.

“The Partners in Leadership, a leading accountability and change management consulting firm, conducted a multi-year landmark workplace accountability study involving over 40,000 participants. From that study, they found that the lack of clarity around key results led 70% of survey participants to indicate their company’s key results are in jeopardy.”

The biggest downfall to creating your 90-Day Goals is creating too many goals and not clarifying priorities. Stick with two or three. Get specific and narrow to maintain clarity. Pick goals that are challenging enough to maintain a sense of urgency, but won’t burn out your team.

For each goal, be sure to identify who is accountable. Put one name by the goal, even if other people are involved — dissemination of accountability is often the root cause of tasks not getting done because of miscommunications of who was responsible for what.

Let’s say you run a non-profit and the long-term vision is to increase revenue by one million over a three-year period. One of your 90-Day Goals could be to bring in corporate donor contributions of $250,000. Aggressive, but doable.

So how do you get there?

2. Setting Stepping Stones

Create stepping stones to success. These are the specific tactics you will take to achieve your goal and when they are due. Think of these as performance indicators, which tell you if you are on track and when to pivot or adjust. They build in the framework for accountability.

For each tactic, identify who is involved and list their names. And be sure to identify any resources needed. Resources may be people, equipment, or budget.

Traditionally, annual goals have been large targets, but teams don’t break them down and define how to achieve those targets. Teams don’t take the time up front to plan and ensure they know the tactics to reach the goal, have the proper resources, and identify who needs to be involved. This leads to being overworked, inefficient, and often spread too thin across too many priorities.

As you identify your tactics, focus on what’s going to have the most impact on your goal. Stepping stones should propel you toward that 90-Day Goal, not leaving your team spinning their wheels doing something that doesn’t truly have an impact. Prune any steps that aren’t impactful.

When working toward a hypothetical 90-Day Goal of raising $250,000, a tactic may be to set up meetings with decision makers at three corporations who are not currently donors within a three week timeframe.

If you measure the number of corporate donors you’re setting meetings with, you’ll see whether or not the right action is being taken in a timely fashion.

Without this tactic and method of measuring progress, you open the door for the time to slip by with no real progress. And if you aren’t hitting those three meetings or you aren’t getting donations, you can assess what the roadblocks are and pivot.

3. Create Daily and Weekly Plans

The third step is to translate your 90-day plan into daily and weekly plans. This is where the rubber meets the road and the sense of urgency comes in.

Identify the specific tasks you will perform every day that week to meet the larger tactic. You’ll have to make the tough choices of how you allocate your time. Be vigilant: decide how you will use your time over the entire week. Stick to specific times to check and respond to email and don’t spend more than 30 minutes at a time on tasks like checking email that aren’t as productive as working toward your goals. Reserve time each week for strategic planning.

If your tactic is to set up appointments with decision makers at three separate corporations, you may need to speak to decision-makers at five corporations every day that week. For every 25 corporations you call, three will agree to a meeting.

This metric keeps you focused, on track, and accountable. You won’t be able to procrastinate if you follow your plan. Without this level of detail, it’s easy for time to slip by while you focus on ‘other things that come up’ and then you’re scrambling at the end to get those meetings booked.

4. Generate Support

Your peers and mentors are a valuable resource. Sharing goals and tactics with like-minded individuals allows for support and new ideas. And when goals are made public or are visible, the likelihood of you holding yourself accountable increases exponentially.

“The Workplace Accountability study found that an astounding 85% didn’t know what their organization was trying to achieve and 93% of those surveyed were unable to align their work or take accountability for desired results.”

Can you imagine working somewhere but not knowing ‘the why’ behind the work you’re doing? Not knowing how your day-to-day moves the needle forward? Not only is that demoralizing, but it’s inefficient. And unfortunately, it’s the reality of far too many workplaces.

Communicating goals and the steps being taken to accomplish those goals more broadly ensures alignment, gains support, and helps everyone see how their work fits into the bigger picture. 90-Day Goals further to make these objectives immediate, rallying the team again and again around shared objectives.

And that’s it! By following this four-step framework and setting 90-Day Goals, you are on your way to increased performance and leaving your legacy.


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