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A Matter of Balance – Achieving the ‘Best Year Yet’


Bank of EnglandThe 'Best Year Yet' performance programme has been discreetly supporting leading City financiers for some years. The programme is now being showcased in the UK. In this article, Jim Reeve, managing director of Barclays Financial (part of Barclay's Wealth Division) and Ralph Peters, pioneer of the programme, explain how they have empowered teams to achieve their 'Best Year Yet' – year after year

Never before has business placed such an importance on strategic planning. Forecasting future objectives and identifying the resources needed to achieve them are now fundamental to corporate culture. But once the targets have been identified, the mission statements written and the plans published, it seems that British business falls down on the actual delivery.

Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that businesses average only 63% of the results they target in their strategies. Lawrence Churchill, a former CEO of Zurich Life and ardent fan/user of the Best Year Yet transformational process, identifies the problem as lack of enforcement: "What most businesses need is a catalyst - an ingredient to speed up results. That is what this process does."

The premise
The programme centres around both team and personal development, covering essential issues such as time management, team co-ordination and the identification of common aims and goals. It combines the two elements essential to effective business growth; identification of key objectives and the removal of limiting beliefs and, just as important, following them through. This is a dynamic combination which Peters says works every time,

The guiding philosophy is to bring every aspect of the team dynamic into the conscious mind of all participants. By discussing fundamental questions such as 'Why are we all here', 'What are we trying to achieve' and 'How do we do this as a team' there is a clear focus and visibility that will lead to a consensus of agreement.

A structured process of 10 steps creates a paradigm of the way forward. The team examine their own evidence of what has worked well for them alongside what did not go so well in the immediate previous year. From this they identify the memorable learnings and the sources of their 'limiting beliefs'. The most damaging limiting belief is aligned on by the Team and together they formulate an opposite or empowering belief which will, when lived into, deliver a significant performance breakthrough. Jim Reeve of Barclays Financial Planning mentions this later.

The team then ensures that its values are supportive of where it is heading and that they can be measured for future benchmarking in the year ahead. Core roles (outside job titles ) are collaboratively decided on and outcome goals formed around those.

Members of the team are appointed as champions of those goals and then monitor the progress (and not necessarily the operation) of a particular issue or aspect of performance. The resultant 'one page plan' is held on a protected website for all the team to access and input the monthly goals which will commence the execution of the Plan.

Once needs have been established and targets have been set, a programme facilitator meets with a team once a month to assess progress, make note of successes and examine the reasons for any failures or shortfalls.

The strength of the programme is its reviews and assessment, both monthly and annually. The team know that when they attend the review meeting, they will be challenged in regards to their responsibilities and progress. Successes are congratulated and put into context, while any objectives that have failed to meet their targets are scrutinised through open discussion. So many teams are prepared to sit in the forming stage with occasional forays into storming followed by a quick retreat into forming. The early reviews focus on breakthroughs in team interaction, focus, and personal responsibility leading to early measureablke performance improvements and reasons to celebrate.

The programme has the power to create the perfect atmosphere for the investigation into any failures. Members of the team are encouraged to be supportive and constructive. The avoidance of accusation or personal justification means that the team also bonds as a unit for maximum efficiency. Conflict becomes valued and positively constructive leading to heightened commitment.

By being open, honest, positive and the monthly reviews become something that is looked forward to and a very enjoyable part of working life.

Reeve was introduced to the Best Year Yet programme whilst working at Zurich Insurance five years go. It was introduced by the CEO as a tool kit to enhance business performance and he, himself, had brought it over from a previous company.

Reeve took the programme with him to Barclays and used it to introduce, bond and co-ordinate his new team of 10. Its success has lead to the programme being filtered down throughout the company. Creating a tangible increase in efficiency and profit:

•Reeve reports that while at Zurich, the company improved its pofit margain by 12% which was equivalent to many millions of pounds.

•In the first half of 2004 at Barclays, profit performance was £16.4 million ahead and total new business income was 24.8% which was 98.5% of our plan for the entire year.

•In 2005 the team grew results by 43% and this year has already grown by over 30% despite ever increasing competition.

The Individual
Best Year Yet is often used by individuals to establish a personal paradigm, set of guidelines and focus on his/her life as a whole. The process is the same as that of the team programme, with monthly meetings taking place with a facilitator on a one on one basis.

More often than not, successful businessmen have one aspect of their life out of balance, be it time spent romantically, with the family, on personal finance or health and fitness. By bringing every issue into the conscious mind and planning objectives of how to achieve them, an individual gets a more balanced view of his/her own life goals.

By making conscious decisions, Best Year Yet prompts someone to recognise what they are achieving and what they are failing to address. By the process challenging the individual, they are made aware of the problem and can discuss how best to address and solve it. By posing fundamental questions, things that may have been ignored are or out of control are captured and overcome.

In extreme cases, individuals have discovered that they are unable to do the job they are in - they have been pushed too far up the ladder and are suffering. Another case was when a participant in the program systematically achieved things that he always wanted such as a new car, an exotic holiday and a second home abroad home. Personal holistic achievement causes individuals to bring more energy to work,time after time.

Once the mindset has been established, people who use the programme rarely give it up. It makes for well-rounded human beings that perform much better in business as part of a greatly improved life.

"I was first introduced to Best Year Yet as a member of a management team that embarked on the programme," recalls Liam Coleman, director of the Treasury Division of the Nationwide Building Society. "I had been on programmes before that either helped identify key objectives or focused on specific issues and themes such as communication, personnel or coaching. I had yet to experience a programme that pulled it all together to create a realistic picture of what was happening in the business."

Best Year Yet was being used across a number of divisions in the group and after a restructure that coincided with the programme's first year, I was in a position to carry it through to a second year in our division. It is a valuable tool because it not only provides a disciplined structure to our monthly off-site meetings, but is also flexible enough to focus on individual objectives, specific issues and scenarios.’

"After the first year we achieved a great deal, but now there is a familiarity with the programme there is greater alignment and efficiency in the second. We have also made it more visible to the support team below management level, so there is greater 'buy in' and awareness of what people are trying to achieve. In our second year it is fair to say that the recognition at board level of our teams impact on the organisations results is a remarkable turnaround from previous years."

About the authors
Jim Reeve has been managing director of Barclays Financial (part of Barclay's Wealth for two and a half years. Ralph Peters is an executive director of Abbey Life plc and Non-executive director of Just Retirement Ltd, Ralph's background is in the sales of financial services. He began executive coaching and top team transformation in 1998 and ran his own consultancy for 18 years. Best Year Yet added £250,000 in value to his consultancy 18 months before selling it.

For more information on 'Best Year Yet' either visit or contact Robin Lander Binkley of Maxwell Communications on 07718 973950 or email [email protected]


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