Your Year-End Planning Guide: Building the Box for Success

As we gear up for the new year, it's time to rethink our approach to annual planning.

Traditionally, we've been told to

  • review the past
  • anticipate upcoming changes
  • set realistic goals

  • then, in a somewhat dubious twist, bump those goals up by 10-30%. Why? Because supposedly, it's expected that our teams won't truly stretch themselves without this artificial nudge

  • finally, we pass these goals down for them to break into smaller steps and pass on further.

Why Traditional Methods Fall Short

But let's be frank, this method has a glaring hole. It assumes goals set from the top down will resonate with those who are actually tasked with achieving them. In reality, we often see better results when teams set their own targets, driven by personal investment and a clear understanding of why these goals matter.

Building the Box: A Comprehensive Framework

This brings me to an innovative approach I've embraced, called "Building the Box." Building the Box is about setting expectations and parameters for the business for the next 12 months. It is based on 4 key pillars:

  1. Plant Position

  2. People

  3. Systems

  4. Numbers


When I heard Mark Brooks refer to his planning process as a ‘box’, I loved it given our four pillars, and have started using that language as well. 

Pre Planning

To kick things off, schedule a 60-90 minute session with each of your direct reports, department heads, CEOs, or relevant leaders, depending on your organizational structure, towards the year's end.

Before these meetings, I find it effective to provide them with a briefing sheet that includes:

  • Historical financial data

  • Recent performance metrics

  • A roster of employees along with their compensation

  • A set of preliminary questions

This preparation enables them to come to the meeting well-informed and ready to engage, creating a collaborative environment instead of one where I'm simply throwing questions at them and leading the brainstorming, problem-solving, and planning single-handedly.

👉️ Tip: Use a shared digital workspace like Trello or Asana to pre-share documents and questions, encouraging leaders to add their thoughts before the meeting.

Plant Position - The Heart of Your Operation

Forget arbitrary growth targets like 20%. We start with the tangible aspects of your business:

  • What equipment upgrades are on the horizon?

  • How are your key customer relationships evolving?

  • What does your labor forecast look like?

  • Are there any new capabilities you're aiming to develop?

  • Do you need certain certifications to snag those key customers?

This approach helps paint a realistic picture of what your plant needs to look like, setting a foundation for achievable growth.

Once you've responded to several key questions, a clearer vision of your facility's requirements will emerge. From this understanding, you can identify a realistic target you aim to achieve within the upcoming 12 months.

Following this step, it's time to outline the specific actions required to reach this goal. Typically, these actions fall into four categories:

  1. Improvements: Enhancements or upgrades needed within the facility.

  2. Projects: Strategic projects to undertake.

  3. Purchases: Essential purchases for equipment or resources.

  4. Hires & Training: Staff recruitment and training initiatives.

Sketching a high-level blueprint of the plant is crucial to turning these goals into reality.

People - Your Most Valuable Asset

Having a vision in place, the next step is ensuring we have the right people in the right roles. Although nurturing a strong talent pipeline is a continuous effort, the planning cycle presents an opportune moment to re-evaluate each team member's position and contribution.

There are three key areas here:

  1. Developing the Leader: Identifying where your leaders can grow and providing resources for their development.

  2. Developing the Team: Assessing each team member's potential, understanding their knowledge gaps, and setting a 6 to 12-month development plan.

  3. Hiring Skills: Deciding whether to build skills internally or hire new talent.

Begin by engaging with each leader to clearly define their career direction, pinpointing areas where they need to grow and identifying resources or strategies to address these gaps in the upcoming year.

Then, apply a similar individual-focused approach to the rest of the team. Use a three-question framework to thoroughly understand and plan for each member's development:

  1. What is the highest potential of this individual based on my current knowledge of their abilities and strengths?

  2. What specific skills or knowledge do they need to fulfill this potential?

  3. Identify the critical 20% of this knowledge that will have the most significant impact (applying the Pareto principle).

Craft a personalized development plan for each team member, focusing on acquiring the crucial 20% of knowledge within six months, and the broader skill set within a year.

This method not only sets clear individual growth paths but also aligns their development with the company's overarching goals, lifting the overall performance.

Additionally, engage in discussions about:

  • Identifying team members with potential for leadership or managerial roles.

  • Determining the key skills that need to be developed internally.

  • Deciding whether to invest in training current staff or hiring new talent to fill skill gaps.

Ultimately, a well-thought-out 'people plan' is an invaluable tool for enhancing the long-term quality and value of your company, and it should not be underestimated in its ability to drive success.


Systems - The Gears of Your Business

The next step involves refining your systems. Success often stems from consistently doing the basics well over time. True greatness in business emerges from the consistent execution of these fundamentals.

How to maintain this consistency?

The answer lies in developing robust systems.

Reflect on a series of questions to determine which systems require development, simplification, modification, or even elimination. It’s essential to critically assess any outdated or dysfunctional systems, as they contribute significantly to team frustration and unnecessary bureaucratic complexity.

To facilitate this process with your team, consider exploring the following questions:

  • Which processes are essential and need to function seamlessly?

  • Are there any recurring issues that need addressing?

  • Where are the major bottlenecks or points of friction within the team?

  • Which tasks could be more efficiently outsourced?

  • What aspects of your operations can be automated for better efficiency?

  • What needs to be developed or improved at the shared services level?

  • In which areas are we underperforming?

  • Identify any systems that are currently causing problems or are ineffective.

By thoughtfully answering these questions, you can identify key areas for system improvement, leading to a more streamlined and efficient operation.

👉️ Tip: Conduct a monthly 'Systems Audit Day' where each department reviews one system and proposes improvements.

Financials/Metrics - The Numbers Tell the Story

Only after addressing the plant, people, and systems do we focus on the numbers:

  • Revenue

  • Earnings

  • Cash Flow

  • People

  • Productivity

  • Investment

  • Quality

  • Safety

  • etc

👉️ Tip: These should be hard but achievable goals.

👉️ Tip: Use SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) to frame each financial goal.

These become the concrete targets guiding your company's journey through the next year.

Monitoring - Keeping Your Finger on the Pulse

Moving forward, it's important to establish a system for monitoring and measuring each of the previously mentioned aspects to determine whether you're on course or need adjustments.

We use a variety of metrics, categorized by their level of importance, and display them using a simple red/green light system, as well as a comprehensive ratio for each facility.

  • If a facility is meeting 80% or more of its targets, we typically conduct monthly check-ins and provide support as requested to help maintain and enhance their performance.

  • If things are off track, more frequent and detailed problem-solving sessions are necessary. We move the check-ins to weekly and run our problem-solving and decision meeting playbook.

This approach isn't just about setting goals; it's about creating an environment where everyone in your team is aligned, motivated, and equipped to reach them.

By focusing on these four pillars and actively involving your team in the process, you're not just planning for the year ahead; you're building a foundation for sustained success.

Let's make this year count!

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