It’s that time of year for reviewing what we achieved over the last 12 months, and what we plan to do in the year ahead.
I love this process — I think we always stress how little seems to be getting done week to week, but when you look back at a whole year, often a lot more has been achieved than you realize. And there’s nothing more fun than brainstorming what we can do in the next year (until it comes time to agree the details and a slight reality check needs to be performed…)!
Goals should be like a pyramid — there should be one simple obvious measure of success for the whole organization right at the top. And then at each layer below — departments, functional leaders and teammates — everyone should know how they contribute to success, and how they can measure their impact.
The framework I like to use goes like this:
Part 1 (half-day to a day): Review
- Discuss the year from a macro — strategy, major milestones — standpoint, and then micro department by department, and big projects one-by-one.
- Review the plan and evaluate what we did well, didn’t do well or at all, and what was done but wasn’t planned. (This helps with evaluating our planning skills!)
- Rate each major area out of 5. 5 being over-achievement, 4 is perfect, 3 we did acceptable, 2 bad, 1 we should fire ourselves if we ever get a 1 again. Average out the ratings and use some common-sense gut-feel weighting (it doesn’t need to be a super mathematical process) to rate the year. You’ll know when the rating feels right — and the whole team should mostly agree. The first time you do this doesn’t add much value, but next year you’ll definitely want to beat the previous years rating, or maintain it if you were a 4 or 5 — because the likelihood is that most people in the group are competitive!
- If this is an all day session, or you started in the afternoon, keep chatting and scheming what we could have done better / might do next year over a team dinner.
Part 2: Planning
- Discuss the general goal in the context of ‘what would success look like at this session next year?’. Write a first draft 1-liner on what the theme of the year should be.
- Discuss functions and areas, milestones, big projects, and agree on measurable goals (that contribute to the primary success goal of the company).
- Agree on 90-day tasks, metrics and goals for each major area — that will move the needle on that area achieving it’s goal for the year.
- Go back to the 1-liner summary for success for the year and finalize it now. After going through each area in detail it’s likely evolved a bit.
- Go do!
All of the review and planning sections should be about 5 bullet points each. Two or three are okay, more than seven and it’s not a summary of successes or failures, it’s just an unfiltered list.
The whole discussion should be team based. Open and honest dialog and functional creative conflict are essential. Everyone needs to be open to feedback, and everyone needs to participate in each part. Read this book if you don’t agree or if you don’t think your team is up for it.
If your team is small (and that’s mostly who this is written for anyway), you don’t need an individual contributor for each area — it’s okay for one person to own deliverables on more than one function. The point of the process is to discuss everything, and the goal of this guide is just to provide a list of questions to help facilitate a rounded discussion.
Below are some outline questions and areas to help you get started. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and every company is different, but hopefully these help kick-start the process. For anyone that does it — enjoy — and I’d love to hear about how your review and planning went — this framework is an ever evolving work in progress!
Summary of Year (below a fictional example):
Our revenue goal was to grow 50% — from $5m to $7.5m, we actually grew 30% to 6.5m, because the first half of the year was a total disaster with no pipeline. In the second half of the year we rebuilt out sales function, discovered our core message and aggressively went to market — 5x’ing ARPA and growing 25% in 6 months. The team and product are in great shape now and the pipeline is strong. Year Rating: 3/5.
- What was our top of pyramid one goal to achieve?
- Did we achieve it — how? Did we miss it — why? Did it change — why?
- Would we consider the year a success from an external only-looking-at-this-process every 12 months perspective?
- What is our strategy now (1-liner or 1-paragraph) and how has it evolved?
- What did we learn on strategy during the year?
- Did we set goals clearly for the whole team?
- Does everyone know what success looks like?
- Is everyone in the boat, rowing the same direction?
- Do the leadership team communicate effectively?
- Are the leadership team a cohesive, high functioning, collaborative team (or do we have some silos)?
- Are we using tools effectively?
- Is sales feeding customer information back into the organization regularly?
- Does the sales team feel fully supported by other teams?
- Is the sales organization built out to support our business? How did it change over the year?
- Were quotas generally reached, did the team deliver it’s revenue targets?
- Is the sales machine working, in good shape from SDR to AM to leader? Do we have a funnel that can both generate leads from out bounding (if appropriate) and when we get leads — are we confident we (cost effectively) can close them?
- Are we happy with our commission structures?
- Are we happy with our product plans and pricing?
- Are we happy with the top of funnel? If not — what work did we do on it and are we making progress on increasing high quality visitors?
- Are we happy with the web site / first visitor experience? Is the conversion rate on target? Did we make any major progress on this in the last 12 months?
- Do we have good metrics?
- Do we have good market and competitive data?
- Are MQLs profitable? Do we have a provable revenue generating marketing function?
- What key wins did we have this year? What areas did we waste time and money on, and what did we learn?
- How would the customer rate your company’s performance for the past year?
- Do we track customer success — using NPS or Customer Effort Score, and how has it changed over the year?
- Are we happy with the tools we use, metrics we track, and SLA or response rate with deliver?
- Does customer feedback make it’s way into the sales team and product team effectively?
- Is the customer success team effective at managing churn and assisting upgrades?
- Are we purely reactive or do we do some trending and monitoring to proactive assistance?
- What major product milestones did we hit this year?
- Did we execute our roadmap, were we generally well planned on-time, or flying by the seat of our pants?
- How has the product vision changed, what was it 12 months ago and what is it now?
- What, if any, disasters did we have?
- On our core metric target — like number of active users, or active users on new features, or new features that provably drove new or upgrade revenue — how did we do?
- What are the major summary points of learning from the year?
- Are we happy with our product plans and pricing?
- Are we a ‘well oiled machine?’ What defines that for us?
- What areas do we need to improve on?
- What has changed in how we operate in the last 12 months?
- In general as we’ve changed, are we in better shape and getting better, or have team changes or growth driven us to a place where we need to overhaul general operations?
- Did we hire on plan, and well?
- Were there painful, avoidable, departures? Or the opposite (fired too slow…? What did we learn from that, in terms of a better decision process in future?).
- Do we do 1:1s regularly? Do we do annual 360 or other types of reviews?
- Let’s do a candid review of the team. Who is outperforming that we need to reward and ensure they are challenged? Who is underperforming — and will they be here in 1+ years (if no… make the right decision now)?
- What is the general sense of morale?
- Are we proud of the culture we are building?
- Have we improved our sourcing and interviewing process, what is our confidence in it?
- What were the big gaps at the start of the year? Did we fill them effectively?
- What are the big gaps now?
- Is everyone learning? Are we executing the learning programs (book clubs / Executive In Residence / or whatever you’re team do)?
- Did we have and use our budget effectively?
- Did we hit our revenue targets?
- Are we okay on key finance metrics — cash flow positive on average (or solid runway/financing for the next 12 months),
- What are our buckets of cost? (% spent on sales & marketing, management and admin, cost of sales, engineering).
- Are we producing accurate MRR and other key business financial metrics, on-time?
This is the really fun part — it’s like making New Years resolutions … except you have to do them AND you are accountable to a group! These goals will be published internally, and you will be able to hold your peers accountable as well as them you, informally (always) and formally (at quarterly review sessions). If only our personal goals were as rigorous…!
- What is the one line summary we can write, that if is true in 12 months, we will be super happy? ‘Grew 50%, consistently month on month, with an ever growing pipeline, high quality MQLs and increasing brand awareness that is driving demand generation, and our metrics are now very detailed, and well understood by all’.
- Are we 100% happy with our current strategy? Great — what will we do in the next 12 months to continue bringing it to life? Or — what work do we need to do to iterate and evolve it?
- Are we connected enough to the market and customers — are we INTERVIEWING customers enough and bringing that feedback back to the leadership team to discuss it’s meaning?
- Do we have a unique position in the customers mind? Does the customer know that yet?!
- Team needs?
- MQL (or other) target, by quarter?
- Funnel metrics progress/usage?
- Events plan? Major PR?
- Needs from product/sales/other teams to succeed?
- Definition of success for marketing for the next year? (Does marketing lead + leadership team agree?)
- Team needs — SDR/AE/AM/SE? Tools?
- How will the sales team collaborate within the organization this year?
- What are the comp plans and are we happy with that model, is it working and fair?
- What are the sales targets? What are the SQL, MQL and team needs to deliver on them?
- Are sales fully equipped to sell? Sales decks, product information, help and training with demos, engineering help as needed on large deals?
- Is our install base net negative, flat or growing when you take out new business and sales churn?
- If our install base isn’t healthy — what are our initiatives this year to fix that?
- What is our NPS? What are we doing about it (improve or maintain…)?
- If our install base is healthy — how do we continue to maintain that?
- What is the core measure of success this year, if not NPS? (Maybe it’s install base growth through managing a business model change… just a suggestion!).
Product and Engineering
- Feature Backlog — weighted with number of requests, expected revenue impact (new, upgrade, churn mitigation, to what potential $ value), and difficulty. (So it should be easy to rank them by impact x effort).
- Roadmap Planning. While you can’t get exacts now — you should know well enough to give broad estimates on when certain things can be done. This discussion is important as it will inform sales what they can say is upcoming, and marketing can start promoting, or prepping, campaigns around major new feature or product announcements.
- Any skills gaps holding us back?
- Are our engineers productive? Does everyone agree? Does everyone know what they are working on?
- Are we happy with the engineering process, quality, output and communications?
- Does every department have a budget?
- Is cashflow okay, or do we have funding needs?
- Any big projects planned — or acquisitions — that will need special financing?
- What is our top-line revenue goal, margin goal, profit target and allocation of capital among projects and departments?
- Are we happy with the culture? If not — why not and what can we do to fix it? If yes — what are we doing this year to maintain and improve it?
- Any major hires on the org chart?
- Do we have a good on-boarding process, what feedback have we gotten from new hires about how to improve it?
- Do we do effective, regular 1:1s, do people have clearly defined goals/KPIs and do individuals know what success looks like for them, and the organization? Do we solicit, and act on, feedback at all levels of the company?
- Are we happy with our HR policies, are they well documented?
The first time doing this might be a little tough. It’s okay to go down tangents, and have silent moments (that’s when a list of questions helps the discussion!), this is a process to wallow in. I think you’ll be amazed at the end of the session how many decisions that seemed obvious at the start of the day have now changed, and also how many big decisions can get made (as opposed to put on the long-finger as often happens in weekly and monthly team discussions).
Using the Plan
First off — in either an annual kick-off all-hands or by each functional leader doing their start of year team meeting, share the single core goal of the year for the whole company, and the leading and lagging indicators of success (such as MQLs as the leading indicator and MRR as the lagging one). And then post it in the break-room or share progress towards it in a daily or weekly email.
Every 90 days the leadership team, and functional teams, should review the previous quarters plan, in light of progressing to, or contributing to, the key company goal. Then plan the next 90-days — what is each functional team going to commit to, that will move the needle on achieving the whole year goal.
Here’s a simple summary of how to use the plan — make sure everyone at every level in the organization knows what the measure of success is for the year, and how they individually and their team contributes to success. And make sure they always have simple, measurable short-term tasks and goals that drive towards that big annual one.
Good luck with the planning — please send me any tips on what works for you — this is a constant work-in-progress and evolving framework!