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Mapping your company's year: how to sequence the big processes
Here’s a template for an annual company calendar to schedule recurring activities like business reviews, planning, and perf. You should be able to copy it if you’re logged into Google. This post is a good companion to Time is emphasis: planning your calendar as a leader.
There are a handful of recurring, company-wide activities that influence how everyone spends their time, including board meetings, business reviews, goals, budgeting, headcount planning, and performance reviews.
If you’re a 10-person startup, you probably don’t have these scheduled out for the year and that amount of structure sounds insane. But there’s a point when it becomes much more efficient if you sequence these big projects thoughtfully.
When is that? I’d suggest sometime when you get past 50 employees and millions of dollars in revenue. Definitely once you have a formal Board of Directors. And absolutely once you have 150+ employees.
Good sequencing saves time. One of the things that pains me the most is when I see startups invest weeks of energy prepping for their Board meetings. While Board meetings can be invaluable, it simply should not take weeks to build materials for a meeting that is primarily for your benefit. If you plan out your monthly financials close and your business reviews so that they happen 2+ weeks before your Board meeting, then you should be able to repurpose materials and really reduce Board prep time.
Here’s another example – in a previous role, I realized that my company worked on annual planning (budget and headcount) before finishing goals. But it didn’t feel like the right flow. It should go more like: “What are we trying to do next year?” (Goals) → “Great, how many people do we need to do that?” (Headcount) → “And how much money do we need to spend for that to happen?” (Budget)
To run an effective planning process, you need to be able to ask questions like: “What can we NOT do if we reduce our headcount/budget by half?” The only answer to that lies in your goals. If these processes are not tied together and sequenced carefully, then it is likely that your planning is unrealistic.
It’s also important to recognize that these processes really affect your progress as a company. They are both very important AND distract from active work to move the business forward. When I was at Quip, I had a conversation with a friend at Facebook (they were about 20,000 people at the time). He shared that they measured productivity drops during performance review cycles and found that company productivity genuinely paused for two weeks.
That conversation made me really conscious of these moments when you’re working on the business instead of in the business. Just like if you’re spending weeks on your Board prep, you’re asking the company to spend a lot of time on something that’s not directly moving the business forward. So be thoughtful about when they happen and always push to make them as short as possible.
What goes into an annual company calendar
(Get the spreadsheet template here.)
Monthly close meetings are financial reviews to understand what happened the month prior. Schedule them right after your financials are closed, usually in the 1st or 2nd week of the month.
Review cadence can vary widely depending on the business — typically weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Weekly reviews can make sense for some SaaS companies, high-velocity SMB and ad sales, to keep up the intensity and rally everyone together.
But at Lambda School, our students went through 4-week sections. So we needed a monthly business review that comes 1 week after the end of a 4-week cycle if we wanted complete numbers. And I work with a solar business that has a long sales and installation cycle, so their business reviews are quarterly. Figure out what is right for your business.
It’ll save you a lot of work if you sequence Board meetings to follow monthly close and business reviews — otherwise you’ll be collecting numbers twice.
Generally, Board meetings happen quarterly (I’m not a huge fan of monthly Board meetings, even for startups, because you end up on a hamster wheel of creating updates rather than working on the business). It’s ideal to schedule the entire year's worth of Board meetings at the beginning of the year. If it works for your business it can be magical to have a flow that goes like this: monthly close → business review → Board meeting, with a week or two in between each.
Get realistic about how much time goal setting takes you. When does it need to be done? Then, work backward to see when you need to begin. In the example spreadsheet, the company sets goals every half-year (for 6 weeks in summer and 10 weeks at year-end) and has two short quarterly check-ins to track how they are doing against goals.
Annual Planning (budget and headcount for the next year)
Setting goals, deciding budget, and finalizing headcount for the next year should be one unified process. As I said above, it should start with goals because what you do drives how much you’re going to spend and how many people you need to do it.
Your company will spend tons and tons of time on performance reviews. Be thoughtful about when you’re putting that burden on the company, especially if you choose to start them in December.
I’ve seen companies shift their perf review cycles to a different quarter end, reviewing in Q1 and Q3 instead of at the end of Q2 and Q4. Some folks do them once a year; Google did them quarterly. A lot of this is up to you and what is right for your business. There are pros and cons to every system.
Beware of vacation
When you are planning the year, be thoughtful about the heavy vacation times like July/August and December. You can still do your big processes during this time (like Annual Planning or Performance Reviews) but you will want to plan them far in advance and put holds on people’s calendars before they plan their vacations.
Ultimately, you can design your company calendar how you want it, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Remember, Salesforce decided to move the end of its fiscal year to January 31 instead of December. A lot more is in your control than you think. You just want to be conscious of how it all comes together with the rhythms of your business.
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