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  • John Reese

The Critical Few

This series of blogs based on my Restaurant Re-Boot piece is as much for me as it is for you. I’m taking our current uncertainty and trying to make sense of it, to gain some measure of control over a situation that has turned our worlds upside down.


The older I get, the more I realize how little control we truly have and how much anxiety and stress that we create in trying to shape the world according to our will. There is strength to be gained by accepting and seeing our situation for what it is, be present in it, be open to learning from it rather than to fight it. Must be a ‘second half of life’ thing!


Planning for me has to be kept simple, visible and measurable. The term ‘strategic planning’ is daunting – it screams of lengthy sessions, complex documents and charts, PowerPoints and boardrooms. The truth is that planning must have input from those on the shop floor who are impacted by high-level decisions. It must be clear, simple and shared. Alignment and engagement of vision are vital, but you must also have full buy-in with your game plan and goals. Consensus is not the goal; Commitment from the group on the decision made is the objective.


Getting results is more about subtraction than addition. This is counterintuitive for the entrepreneurial mind, which often aims to solve issues by wanting to throw more shit against the wall to see what sticks, to do more and to push harder. This dilutes our resources and dulls our impact. Focus is needed to commit to doing less, but doing it better and becoming masters of prioritization.


The Planning Cycle

A clear vision and strong core values provide direction and guide smart decisions. They affirm your intention and help you participate in creating your future. Being settled on your big thinking (10 years+) and medium-term possibilities, we now shift into the shorter term where things get real. Vision becomes strategy, and we shift to being all about execution.


The annual plan must include key targets from your budget so that they are highly visible to all stakeholders. Our objective is to make plain our top 3-5 goals for the company for the fiscal year. These annual goals must be consistent with and in support of both your medium-term priorities and big picture strategy. Your key team members must all participate in and contribute to shaping your annual goals.


Given the fast-paced and highly uncertain world that we operate in, we then shift to setting quarterly actions. Again, you must establish the 3-5 critical few as opposed to the miscellaneous many. Without focus, you gain little momentum. Avoid the temptations of the bright and shiny things that continually bombard you. Stick to your chosen path, core competence, strengths and goal commitments.


Set the quarterly priorities for the company as a whole as well as having each department head establish them for their area of responsibility. Meet before the start of each new quarter and set clear priorities—review weekly to keep the train on the track. If anyone is off-track, identify the why behind this and fix the issues. This is your rhythm.

You are not looking to build a complex strategic plan that sits on the shelf. You want focus, visibility, weekly measurement and continued progress.


At the end of each quarter, meet with the team and measure your success. Have you achieved 80% of our quarterly and annual goals? If not, and still important, move any relevant un-done goals into the next quarter and focus on getting things done. Even the smallest bits of progress daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually bring an infectious positivity to the business that snowballs. The inability to get things done is a morale killer and leads to get further stuck in the mud. Don’t let it happen to you and your team.

The Critical Few

• Establishing 3-5 top priorities is not easy. The tendency is to add thoughts, ideas and potential solutions.


• You don’t want a lengthy to-do list. Those are daily and weekly activities that have to get done effectively.


• The critical few is established by distilling identified issues and opportunities, and eliminating all but the essential items and ranking in terms of priority.


• These top priorities must have teeth to be effective. The goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Time-Bound (SMART) for there to be real progress.


• Don’t be daunted by the whole strategic planning concept. Commit to establishing your top 3-5 priorities annually and quarterly. Get the team aligned and working together to achieving what you have established, measure weekly and get unstuck. You will be amazed how your momentum builds.


Until next time!



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