How I Close Out Each Quarter: 5 Questions To Guide Quarterly Reflection & Planning

I wanted to hop in this week, at the end of the quarter, for a quickie episode to share a behind-the-scenes look at my quarterly check-in process. 

I’ve always loved the end of the quarter — or month or week or even day. It’s an opportunity to reflect on and assess the time that’s passed, and to use that insight to make plans – or reset existing plans – for the coming time period. 

When it comes to leading or growing an institution, a habit of reflection, assessment and planning is really important. I’ve talked about it on this show in different ways – each year I’ve done some sort of mini series about this – two years ago I did a year end series about reflection and assessment, and last year I walked through a series about planning for your year.

But today I just want to share the process that I used when I was running my organization, and that I still use as I grow my company. 

It starts with a quarterly quiet week. The last week of every quarter is what I call a quiet week. That basically means no meetings. No external meetings, and the only internal meetings are assessment, reflection and planning meetings. 

It’s a time for me and my team to look inward and do a more substantial assessment and reflection than I do at the end of each month. On a monthly basis I’m capturing and assessing some key data about the previous month – like a dashboard to make sure I know where programs, financials, etc. are, and to make sure everything is on track.  The quiet week is an opportunity to do that on a deeper level, but also to reflect on trends that I’m seeing. 

I know it sounds crazy to some of you – an entire week with no meetings?? The first time I planned it I was secretly prepared for my world to implode. Any staff members, board members that felt ignored, some crisis would erupt and I’d be out of touch. 

But here’s the thing about a quiet week – it’s not a week off. I read and responded to emails, I was available for a crisis. The office was open. It was just protected time for important deep work. 

So next, what do you do in a quiet week? I wrap up my quarter with 4 questions. And even if you don’t do a quiet week, you can use these 5 questions to guide a quarterly check in for your own organization. 

  1.  Where are we? Financially and programmatically. This is bare bones data tracking. For me, it was things like money in and money out from each of the 3 sources we tracked – individuals, foundations and corporations. It was looking at our evaluation plan and collecting key program data – key outputs and outcomes. Board engagement touch points, conversations with key advisors, cultivation of funders and donors, grants submitted. These are rooted in the goals and plans you’ve set.  
  2. What worked and what didn’t? 
    • What did we accomplish this quarter that we are proud of? Look both at what you’ve accomplished relative to the goals you set, and more broadly. This is a chance to note accomplishments and achievements that may not have anything to do with explicit goals – ways of moving through the world… unexpected new partnerships… the closing out of a long term project…  Noting accomplishments – both goal oriented and not – is important both in order to note and celebrate, and because you can identify trends that give you insight into plans for the next quarter. 
    • What did we not accomplish that we wish we had? What got in the way? 
  3.  What was the ROI on money and resources spent? This is where you take a hard look at how you spent time and money — do a calendar audit to see how much time you spent in check-in meetings and other meetings that don’t move the work forward, as opposed to engaged in high leverage activities. Look at how money was spent, and what you got back for that money – could you have achieved the end goal for less money? Are there other things – in hindsight – you would have spent the money on? 
  4.  Are we working in a way that is reflective of our values? 
  5.  What about our plans for the next quarter needs to be updated, refined, and/or eliminated? 

These are the basic questions that I ask each quarter, and they guide me through a process of reflection, assessment and goal-revision that helps me stay on track, and even reset sometimes. 

I hope this little outline of a check-in action plan is helpful to you as you wrap up this quarter and look ahead to the next one. 

That’s it for this week’s quickie episode! I’ll see you back here next week for more Mastermind.

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