Your Q1 Numbers Are In — Here’s How to Stay (or Get) on Track - Senior Executive
Strategic Planning 7 min

Your Q1 Numbers Are In — Here’s How to Stay (or Get) on Track

Q1 results offer an early opportunity to assess your performance against your projections. Here’s how to identify the story behind the numbers and adjust your tactics accordingly.

by Dawn-Michelle Baude on April 13, 2022

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  • Start by analyzing and building a narrative around your data

  • Determine how transparent you should be and with whom to share results

  • Identify factors outside of your team’s control that contributed to your Q1 performance

  • Tap your team to find out what worked and what caused setbacks in Q1

Q1 results offer the first — and perhaps most important — opportunity to assess performance against 2022 projections. If your company is falling behind, you still have time to adjust your strategy. If your team had a stellar quarter, now is the time to double down. 

Savvy leaders search for a story in the numbers and analyze what the trends mean for their organizations. 

“I’m looking for surprises, things I didn’t predict, patterns that don’t make sense, data points reflecting missed opportunities,” explains Christoph Burkhardt, CEO and president of OneLife, a green-tech company focused on air purifying. “I want to find the story behind the results and explain it.”  

Like a good film or book, triumphs, challenges and setbacks are all parts of the narrative — whether it’s a winning quarter or missed Q1 projections. 

Here’s how you can identify the story behind your Q1 numbers, share the results with your team and make the changes you need to stay (or get) on track. 

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So, Should You Share Your Q1 Numbers? 

While the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the disclosure of Q1 results for publicly traded firms, many companies have leeway in terms of who knows what. 

Some executives like Burkhardt share quarterly numbers with any of the company’s 90 employees who are interested. In Burkhardt’s view, it is absolutely crucial that the team understands why certain decisions are made at specific moments and when those decisions are driven by data. A lack of communication may result in misunderstandings. 

“In my experience in the startup context, the cost of under sharing by far outweighs the risk of oversharing results,” Burkhardt says. “Although, of course, some results and KPIs [key performance indicators] would confuse the team and won’t help in learning as fast as we need to in order to survive.” 

Complexity isn’t the only reason to hold back information; discretion is another. 

“Sometimes you have to play it very close to the chest,” says Hani Findakly, CEO of Potomac Capital, a Washington, D.C. investment advisory firm.

Avoiding the rumor mill is especially true with information that must be confidential by law. “Not disclosing information that you’re legally compelled to keep secret has to extend to friends, family, even board members, or everyone will find out things they’re not supposed to know,” he says.

Whether you share every data point with your whole staff or select information with your investors, start with honesty. Sharing less has fewer detriments than sharing misleading or inaccurate information. 

“Business is built on trust, but also on performance,” says Odeh Aburdene, founding member of the Capital Trust Group and member of the Scowcroft Center Advisory Board. “If the numbers aren’t accurate, authentic and transparent, you lose credibility.”

Choosing the Right Frame for Your Q1 Story 

So you’ve determined who should be in the room when you share your Q1 performance. The next step is choosing the frame for your story. Whether you outperformed expectations or fell short, keep your message clear and rational. 

“People tend to want to highlight the good things and downplay the bad things,” says Aburdene. “But by being forthright and by clearly explaining — here are the problems, here’s how we got here and here’s how it can be overcome — you increase trust and motivation.” 

Next, think about the desired outcome of your presentation. “What are you expecting the people who are listening to you to come away with? How are you hoping they feel or respond?” postulates Clarke Peterson, founder of Atlanta Leadership Consulting.  

According to Peterson, executives should “carefully craft a message that produces the reaction they seek.” For example, if your aim is to comfort your team, reassuring phrases should be sprinkled in your analysis.

“You want your team to feel validated and involved,” says Geri Grossman, president of consulting firm My Executive Coach. “If possible, avoid their emotional triggers. Making your team receptive, rather than defensive or anxious, helps to ensure that they absorb the message.” 

Missed Projections? Inspire Turnaround

“Not hitting the numbers isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” says Findakly. “Poor Q1 results often represent tidying up the Q4 balance sheet.” Findakly adds that some strategies entail short-term losses to meet long-term goals. Other times a shortfall is a shortfall, and you need to change strategy. 

While a command-and-control management style works in some contexts, inspiring your team to turn around Q1 results starts long before the numbers are in. “Rapport with team members and co-workers should be in place well before you announce policy changes,” Peterson says. Putting pressure on team members who are disgruntled or alienated likely won’t achieve optimum results when new tactics are implemented.

Take time during your meeting to discuss the results with your team, Peterson suggests. Ask participants the factors they believe shaped your quarterly outcomes, and brainstorm how your team can tackle these challenges. 

Making a strategy change based on missed targets? Peterson suggests announcing that you’ll make your final decision about a specific change by, say, 5:00 p.m. Tell the team that anyone who thinks a particular topic hasn’t been considered should reach out one hour before the deadline. This strategy will allow introverts to email or text their thoughts in private, as they might hesitate to do so in a group. 

“Making sure that everyone has a sense of ownership around the issue, and that everyone is on the same page as to what is causing the shortfall or gap, is the best way to move forward,” Peterson says. “When that’s not possible, make sure the team members feel that their objections have been voiced and heard.” 

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Exceed Expectations? Keep the Momentum Going

When Q1 results are going in the right direction, you want to point that out and recognize team-member contributions. “People feel validated and implicated when they’re praised for their actions,” Grossman says. “If you want them to keep doing a great job…you have to begin by publicly or privately telling them that you notice.”

A record-breaking quarter may also result from luck or a favorable shift in the market. Burkhardt recommends that you help the team identify all the factors outside their control that have led to a strong Q1. 

“Make clear that a lot of luck went into Q1 being smooth and then ask: How are we going to make sure we will succeed in less fortunate situations?” Burkhardt says. “I see many decision-makers attributing success to teams doing the right thing but then attributing failure to individual mistakes, meanwhile completely ignoring all the factors outside the control of the team.”

Then, Burkhardt suggests turning to factors within your company’s control. Have the individuals in the team assess their own contributions and identify what’s been working. When team members know what work they can actually take credit for, they can build a better blueprint for success going forward.

Turning Q1 Number Into Action

When it comes to taking action, Burkhardt follows the observation/meaning/action formula.

  • Observation. Identify what market trends have impacted your company. 
    • For example, a company may face pandemic-related, supply-chain shortages.
  • Meaning. Explain how that factor impacts your company. 
    • For a hardware company, supply shortages might cause delays in shipments and longer customer wait times. 
  • Action. Share how your organization will respond. 
    • To make sure our customers understand, we need more power in our messaging and higher frequency in our updates. Marketing, as a result, will be tasked with crafting customer support messages.

Burkhardt says this method “creates transparency and commitment without running the risk of simply shouting out commands when pressure is high.”

No matter how your company performed, the key to adjusting your strategies lies in your employees’ expertise. “When you look at any company, look at the human capital, starting at the top and go down the ladder,” Aburdene says. “You’ll find a lot of answers right there.”

How is your team reporting Q1 results? Send an email to editor@seniorexecutive.com to share. 

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Your Q1 Numbers Are In — Here’s How to Stay (or Get) on Track

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