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Forging a Smoother Road Ahead

Plan for 2006 by reviewing 2005.

Often, we begin the new business year by talking about goals, projections, budgets, and other planning tools. Certainly these are all necessities of any successful shop's operation. But you don't want to overlook an equally important part of planning: reviewing the past.

It's all too easy to enter 2006 with great plans and renewed energy, and then forget to review your goals from the past 12 months. While it may be a little painful to do so, it's important that you go back and examine what went wrong last year. Review which goals you set for 2005 that you did not accomplish.

You can probably classify the goals that you didn't achieve into two general categories: goals you set but never got around to working on, and goals you worked on but did not achieve.

First are the goals that you set but never really worked on. These goals may be those that were "pie-in-the-sky" goals"? ones that were not realistically attainable. Perhaps, in hindsight, you now realize that these goals may indeed have been attainable, but you ignored them at the time because they seemed too difficult to achieve and they required too much extra work. Or perhaps they seemed liked good goals when you set them up, but you decided somewhere along the way that they were "meaningless goals."

Whatever the reason, it will be useful when outlining this year's plans to evaluate why these particular goals were not achieved. Doing so will help you avoid the same mistakes when planning for this year.

The second category of goals not achieved are the ones that you worked hard to accomplish, but couldn't pull off. These goals may be even more relevant to evaluate. Perhaps with more consistent effort from your team"?or a little more time"? you can still achieve them. If so, set them up as a new goal for this coming year, modifying them to address any changes in your situation.

Your smartest goals
Having addressed the past, it's now time to examine some planning strategies for the upcoming year. I suggest you do so using "SMART" goals"?goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound:

  • Specific: Your goals should be clearly spelled out so there is no doubt as to what you expect. When goals are specific, they also become easier to track and measure in terms of progress.
  • Measurable: If you want to know whether or not you are accomplishing your goals, they must be able to be measured. Without the ability to quantify progress in real terms, you and your staff can become discouraged and disinterested.
  • Attainable: Don't set goals that are unattainable. This can be tricky because if the goal is too easily achieved, no real growth or success will occur. On the other hand, if the goal is too difficult to reach, no real effort will be spent in trying and you will fail. The best goals are those that require you to stretch to achieve. At my company, "stretch goals" is a key phrase we use often in our planning"?whether it be monthly, quarterly, or annually.
  • Relevant: Make sure you set goals that, when achieved, will mean something. If you want your employees to work toward accomplishing something, they must feel that it's an achievement that will be relevant to your company's success"?and ultimately to their own success, too.
  • Time-bound: Your goals need to have a beginning point and an ending point. If the time frame of the goal is structured in an open-ended manner, then that goal will likely take a back seat to the daily tasks that will then seem much more imminent and time critical. The goal will eventually die on the back burner.

The calendar is not the boss
Two final points to keep in mind when it comes to setting company goals for 2006 have to do with the calendar and the number of goals you set.

Sometimes, to our detriment, we allow the calendar to define our successes and failures"?slotting our goals into specific time periods, and then allowing the schedule to become the objective rather than the task you're actually trying to achieve. But meeting a specific goal may indeed take 14 or 15 months to complete rather than the 12 months you originally thought. That's okay"?if the goal is a critical one, what's important is that you meet that goal and do it well, not necessarily that you hit a certain internally set date.

Another trap many companies fall into is setting too many goals. If your goals are too overwhelming in quantity, you'll likely lose focus and energy in trying to achieve them all. In fact, you'll end up accomplishing very little. Setting a realistic number of goals is the best way to ensure a successful 2006.

Marty McGhie (marty@ferraricolor.com) is VP finance/ operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations.

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