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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The planning meeting

At the chalet (below): From left -- Mark Buckshon, North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm, (standing) editor Matt Desrosiers and writer Johnathan Monk, (sitting) administrative co-ordinator Amanda Arthurs, Ottawa/Eastern Ontario representative Cindy Pilgrim, senior publisher Chase (from St. Catharines, Ontario)), Northern Ontario publisher Leslie Greenwood (from Sault Ste. Marie), designer Raymond Levielle and accounting co-ordinator Sherri Herriot. In the picture at right are consultants Bill Caswell and Upkar Bikhu of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company.

We've returned from a couple of days of intensive meetings at a remote lakeside chalet in West Quebec. Day 1 (Monday), most of the company's employees and key contractors gathered to review progress and set out the plan for 2009. Day 2 (yesterday) our sales team assembled for a brief but vital meeting where we assessed company practices and priorities, and set into motion several new initiatives.

Perhaps the most impressive quality of the meeting -- outside of the good-will and co-operation among employees -- is that we concluded next year will turn out rather well for the business, despite the scary economic news. (We were insulated on Monday from that day's stock market declines; fortunately mostly recovered by Tuesday).


Our optimism is not carelessly based; undoubtedly a serious contraction will affect the construction industry and its allied architectural and engineering professions. Many major projects are on hold, financing is truly difficult to obtain, and the residential construction industry still needs to absorb all the bad mortgages and housing inventory built when it seemed anyone could sign the contract and 'own' their own home (regardless of credit capacity.)
But we saw a silver lining in all of these problems. Surviving construction businesses will want to maintain and preserve their relationships, and will find value in working with us, because we focus on building connections, links, and respecting these relationships. (Advertisers here are always treated with respect: this blog, started as a client service initiative, for example, has grown to a higher level.)

Of course this business plan is not built on dumb hope -- costs and expenses can closely be monitored to see if they match revenues, and if a course adjustment is needed, we'll make it. We'll stick to our guns in geographical expansion: The issue is less the location than the person who works with us -- the hiring standards will remain high, and careful evaluation is essential before putting anyone to work here.

Impressively, employees suggested a few new revenue sources and some areas where prices could be increased without compromising relationships -- while enhancing service value. And we received mandates to pursue some new projects and initiatives (which I will report on in the weeks ahead).

If you haven't found a way to integrate your employees into the business planning process, or (even more seriously) you don't have a formal planning system and procedures, take a minute to consider the cost of this ad-hockery. No one is suggesting the world will follow exactly according to plan, but with the plan in hand you can see where diversions and distractions are interfering with progress, and define and capture opportunities when they arise. You need to do this, especially in the current challenging business environment.

2 comments:

Kerry said...

Mark,

Congrats on a successful meeting. We just attended a seminar about the value and necessity of "planning meetings" last week. We are actually attending a series of classes on management and business growth. I agree that it is more vital than ever today, but the ones with a plan don't seem to be whining as much as the one's without. Go figure.

Mark Buckshon said...

Kerry, thanks you are right.

Although of course planning and planning meetings cannot change the external environment/economy, they allow a business the opportunity to see how to be successful in different circumstances. Notably, the collective wisdom of the company's employees can deploy to innovate solutions which may not be apparent with a pure top-down (or ad-hoc) approach.