The 90-day Performance Improvement Cycle

by Stacey Barr |

Annual planning has a few drawbacks that result in unachieved targets, wasted time, and exhaustion in the end. We set the goals and targets for the end of the year, but that feels so far away that we often delay our start, fail to respond as the world around us changes, and consequently lose momentum and interest.

In contrast to the annual cycle, the 90-day performance improvement cycle is simply about focusing on and elevating just one performance priority over a 3-month period.

You’ll continue to measure and monitor other areas of performance too, that you chose in your strategic planning, but you’ll only take action on, and aim to produce a measurable improvement in, the 90-day focus you’ve chosen.

Imagine you have seven strategic goals (or five or twelve; whatever) that you can group under four themes. Each theme could be assigned to a 90-day block and you’d work on designing, implementing and delivering on the initiatives you chose to reach the strategic goals within that 90 day’s theme.

One of my small business clients calls their themes ‘rocks’, and each 90-day block sees the whole company focused on just one rock.

For long-term initiatives, you could instead break them down into 90-day chunks, and focus on designing, implementing and delivering on just one chunk at a time.

And it might be that different teams are working on different – but ideally synchronised – initiatives as their 90-day focus. There isn’t just one way to adopt the 90-day performance improvement cycle.

The idea is that when you shorten the time frame and sharpen the focus, you will achieve more. A year is such a long time. It means we can too easily delay making any progress on our performance targets because of a false belief we have plenty of time and don’t need to dive in immediately. It means we can feel locked into our plan, even when the world around us is shaping up much differently to the assumptions we based that plan on. It means we can run out of steam when we haven’t seen results worth celebrating on a regular basis.

But 90 days is a much more tangible timeframe than a year; we can feel its length almost viscerally and can see its end in our mind’s timeline.

It matters far less that we reach our targets each 90 days than we make steady and learned progress. It’s through action that the world changes, not through thinking and planning. We need to think and plan, but often we do too much of it, and not enough acting and learning and achieving.


Do you see a way to practice a 90-day performance improvement cycle in your work? What would your first 90-day theme be? Or do you practice this 90-day cycle already? How does it work for you?

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  1. Gareth says:

    The 90 day and singular focus works for task or project-focussed people/roles but when it gets applied in complex operation management there is a danger of dropping a critical ball. I saw this too often when managing process plant operations.

    In reality I believe it means juggling many balls at once but allowing some people the freedom to have a narrower or short term focus using techniques like the one you suggest in this article.

  2. I used to run ‘one-a-month’ with my finance and resource teams. We selected the topic for improvement based of feedback from the business customers. One of the team committed to own the problem to resolution by the next monthly meeting. It was amazing what we achieved with that simple focus. No excuses, no losing our way among 100 initiatives.

    Only downside was that people forgot how much they had achieved so we used to reflect and celebrate our progress every quarter.

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