Using a Retrospective to Set Actionable Goals
As 2016 draws to a close and the New Year stretches out ahead with so much promise, many small business owners and self-employed people wonder, how can I make next year more successful than the last? Many of us have checklists and calendars we go through, there are past-year audits that are recommended, some even advocate a good old fashioned scrubbing and cleaning to promote clarity and a fresh start! While each of those methods have their merits, creating an actionable plan for success in the upcoming year can be a daunting task. As such, many people make it too large of an endeavor and don’t know where to begin. This year, I suggest you condense your end-of-year audit and future planning into one activity, borrowed from the Agile software development world, called a retrospective.
What is a retrospective?
No matter how well you feel you, or your team, is working, there are always opportunities for improvement. You are most likely always looking for ways to improve your business, whether it’s your bottom line, customer satisfaction, or employee retention. However, setting aside time to purposefully reflect on what you are doing and ways you could improve, enables you to take more of a holistic view when making decisions regarding your path forward. That’s the essence of the retrospective.
How to do a retrospective?
If you’re lucky enough to have a team, include them and you don’t need to make important decisions in isolation. Schedule up to an hour for this activity, which is usually more than enough time. That being said, sometimes a topic will escalate into a discussion and you may have to make further time to flesh it out and come to a decision. There are many formats that a retrospective can take, but the simplest and most effective is to go around the room and ask each team member the following three questions:
1. What’s going well?
2. What’s not going well?
3. What could we do differently to improve?
Initially, as you’re leading the meeting, just go around the room and compile a list of people’s comments and suggestions. It’s essential that the reflective and holistic spirit of the retrospective be maintained in order for creative suggestions and necessarily critical feedback to come forward. If participants get the sense that their comments will have grand consequences, they are less likely to be candid. As such, there are many options for creatively formatting the retrospective itself (see below).
Why do a retrospective?
As the saying goes, insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. If problem-solving is your goal, then changing the way you work is a must. By giving power to your team, not only are you helping them develop their own problem-solving skills, but since the ideas that come out of retrospectives are from the team, there will be little resistance to changes as they are implemented. As a business owner, this helps you in multiple ways. First, it helps you to be able to step back from your business because you know that your staff is fully bought-in to the plans for the upcoming year. Second, it provides a platform for creative ideas to be examined and addressed. Third, it’s short, taking about an hour. And last, the retrospective is future-focused, unlike an audit or a brainstorming session, its format encourages timelines and teammates taking ownership of their suggestions.
How to apply feedback?
Once the list from the meeting participants has been compiled and everyone has described what they thought went well, and what they thought went poorly in the past year, as well as what they think could be improved in the coming year, it’s time to put that feedback to good use. Much like any other meeting, the outcomes need someone who takes ownership, a timeline for follow-up, and measurements for success. The beauty of the retrospective is in the simplicity of its action and its laser focus on improvements. However, failing to implement those improvements is never a path to success. Turning retrospective feedback into SMART goals is necessary.
What are SMART goals?
As a business owner interested in improving your business and generally getting things done, you’ve probably heard of SMART goals before.
There’s never a bad time to review, though, so here’s what the SMART acronym stands for:
Specific: Define the goal in as clear terms as possible. Define the who, what, where, when, and why you think this goal is important, as well as requirements for defining success.
Measurable: How will the progress be tracked and the outcome be measured? It’s also important to define how you’ll know when a goal has been achieved.
Attainable: Ensuring that a goal isn’t below regular performance standards, or out of reasonable reach provides a ‘reality check’ and helps support a plan’s success.
Relevant: A goal should be consistent with both short and long-term plans, as well as the overall needs of the business.
Time-Bound: An objective without a time constraint never develops a sense of urgency and therefore almost inevitably will be pushed aside for more pressing priorities.
It’s never advisable to set a goal, whether in business, or in life, that doesn’t fit the SMART parameters, since a goal that lacks one of these constraints (measurability, for instance) will almost inevitably result in a failure. Why would you set your business, your team, and yourself up for failure at the beginning of a brand new year?
How to apply SMART goals to retrospective feedback?
This doesn’t have to be where your retrospective meeting becomes ho-hum. Planning for the future should be exciting for both you and your team! Doing it well makes the activity even more enjoyable because you know you’re laying the groundwork for success. Once you’ve got your plans to improve, simply apply the SMART goal format to them. An easy, fun, and visual way to do that is to try a futurospective approach by putting a timeline for the year up on the wall. As you and the team define each goal and how it will be measured, put it up on the timeline near the date when the goal should be accomplished. Doing this provides a visual reminder to space out goals, as well as the motivation for each team member to have a goal up on the timeline, thus everyone takes ownership of something throughout the year.
You can and should conduct retrospectives on a regular basis – don’t feel restricted to the busy year-end time, when inventory, high discount sales, and family commitments often pull our focus away. Quarterly, or even monthly check-ins may lead to significant improvements for you and your business. Once you get comfortable with the format, try to have a little fun with it. Check out the links below for some suggestions for turning your retrospectives into team-building events.
Tips for Generating Interesting Insights
LEGO Serious Play
Futurospective – Path to Nirvana