It’s exhausting, really—the continuous pressure to achieve positive business results quarter after quarter, year after year. Can’t we just take one quarter off to rest a bit, to celebrate last quarter’s success, to let our people catch up with all this change? The answer is no, of course. You can’t afford to take any time off if you’re going to continue to win.
This is one of the most important lessons I learned as the young CEO of a children’s apparel company in 2000. It came in the form of a two-word question, “What’s next?” I had called my executive coach to share the good news with him and get my well-deserved pat on the back. After more than a year of tense negotiations and creative business structuring, we finally signed a joint venture deal, giving us the exclusive rights to an exciting, patented product that would open new distribution channels and reinvigorate old ones. It was a day for celebrating, and I just wanted to hear my mentor say, “Good job, Chris. Well done. I’m excited for you and the future of your company.” I got some of that, but the part I remember most when I hung up the phone were those two nagging words, “What’s next?”
Since then, I’ve learned that the secret to long-term, sustained business growth requires viewing your business as a continuous cycle of ongoing development and improvement rather than a series of well-executed events. The challenge is finding a way to focus on executing the opportunity at hand well, creating a plan for the one that just appeared and being on the lookout for the one that’s just over the horizon. All three of these require a different skill set, intense focus and relentless commitment.
“the secret to long-term, sustained business growth requires viewing your business as a continuous cycle of ongoing development and improvement rather than a series of well-executed events.”
The answer, I have found, lies in creating a series of healthy rhythms that repeat over and over, intersect at certain times and connect people throughout the organization. You need one for strategic thinking (a Think Rhythm), one for execution planning (a Plan Rhythm) and one for doing the work (a Do Rhythm). All three rhythms must be continuous and connected.
The Think Rhythm suggests you maintain a regular cadence of working on the future of the business. Build time into your routine for ongoing conversations about your long-term strategy, your market position, the impact of changing technology, your competitive advantages and what your core customers need. Find ways to build time into your flight path every week, every quarter and every year.
The Plan Rhythm requires you to take time out every year and every quarter to identify and reprioritize your opportunities, determine success criteria and create execution plans. Once this rhythm is established and becomes routine, everyone in the company will become more productive because their energy will be focused on the top few priorities that can move the company forward. Quarterly planning is key to connecting everyday execution at all levels of the company to long-term strategy.
The Do Rhythm consists of weekly and daily habits you establish that will allow your team to make necessary adjustments as they execute the plan and achieve success. This includes things like visible dashboards, weekly meetings, daily huddles and collaboration tools. The only way to have a great year is to have four great quarters, one quarter at a time, and the only way to have a great quarter is to have 13 great weeks, one week at a time.
Putting the structure in place to support these three rhythms takes effort and will need to be a priority with full support from you at the top. Change is always hard, but in this case, it’s well worth it. Once these rhythms become routine, you’ll find that the flow of ideas and the percentage of initiatives your team is able to complete successfully will grow exponentially. Success builds on success, and your positive results will become much more predictable.