Annual Advances Are Rocket Fuel for the System.

Prior to our annual Spring advance, we collect the team plans and projections, add them to the agency's new initiatives, and see how it all adds up.

Sometimes it doesn't add up like we want it to. Here's a story to illustrate:

It happened at our agency's 1997 Spring Advance. The expenses for the year were projected. (Salaries, rent and overhead are relatively easy to project. It's the income that's hard to project in our industry.)

As the teams delivered their revenue projections from their team meetings it became increasingly apparent that we were coming up short. We were already in the sixth month of our fiscal year, yet projections were showing us $327,000 short of break-even. For a company of our size at that time, that was a real problem.

As the numbers came in, it was obvious to the associates that I was concerned. (Note: The reason I was so concerned is that I had aggregated every dime of available cash in my estate to make the down-payment on our agency's new building, so there was no cash reserve. Financially, our back was against the wall.)

One person said, "Hey, we can at least break even." And the group responded by devising a plan using what we called "stretch goals." There were first-level and second-level stretch goals.

After the advance, we reported the progress on our stretch goals monthly. And without recommending anything to our clients that we didn't sincerely believe they needed, we ended the year exceeding our basic projections, exceeding our first-level stretch goals, and actually making a small profit.

It was confirmation to us as a group, once again, that what we can conceive and believe, we can achieve.

For years now, we've gone away for a Spring Advance. Everyone goes. There's really no way to draw a line and say, "These people stay home; these people go to the Advance." In an organization of self-directed teams, everyone is important. Everyone.

In the beginning, we called them retreats. Once someone said to me, "Joe, a retreat is like a trip to the woods where you have time to reflect. But these aren't retreats, because we work so hard at them." That's true. And some time after that the idea came to call them "Advances."

They've been opportunities to get to know each other better. Opportunities to share goals, develop action plans and remind ourselves of what's important to us as colleagues who happen to share a common mission and vision in our professional lives.

Advances are obviously a time to have fun, too. We have some terrific meals together. Many of us – probably at least one-third – are entertainers of some sort – musicians mostly. So there's lots of music, laughter and good cheer. Sometimes we have too much fun. We stay up too late, sometimes drink too much, sing too long. And, of course, pay for it the next day.

During the Team Report part of the Advance, we hear what the teams' plans are, where they're going, what their biggest challenges, achievements and failures were in the past year. As the teams report, other teams learn from both the successes and failures of others.

We bring in experts who offer expertise on goal setting, conflict resolution, nutrition, relaxation and stress management techniques such as yoga.

As an agency, our annual Advances have gone a long way toward enhancing the alignment of individuals and teams.