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Monday, October 08, 2007

The annual planning meeting

This week on Wednesday, we'll have our annual planning meeting. The October meeting, coupled with another review meeting in the spring, are now cornerstones of our business operations even though they tie up resources and cost significant amounts of money. I used to think these planning sessions were airy-fairy bs -- time wasters from the real stuff of doing business. My views have shifted, especially since I see the planning sessions are elements of many of the world's most successful businesses.

The benefits of solid and well-organized planning meetings include:

  1. All key staff (and at this point in our business growth, that is in fact ALL staff) have the opportunity to participate, contribute, question, and 'own' the plan -- we don't force something down their throats.
  2. The plan gives us solid guideposts and measurement tools; coupled with accountability and responsibility. Of course circumstances almost inevitably require deviations from the plan, but we can defer radical innovations and ideas, and explore them closely at the meeting.
  3. With our diverse geography, we can bring everyone together and cross-fertilize ideas and initiatives.
I think it wisest to contract with qualified facilitators to organize these planning meetings, at least until your business is large enough that you have in-house staff who can specialize in this kind of work. Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company advocates these ground rules:

  • You should keep an entire day clear; avoiding distractions and outside interruptions (outside of specifically scheduled breaks);
  • Food and refreshments should be available on-site to allow meeting without worrying about the necessities of life;
  • The meeting should have a clear agenda, and processes, with a specific outcome (in our case, consensus on the business plan for the next year);
  • Basic principals of respect and communication should be followed to prevent domination of the meeting by 'loud' individuals; and to encourage participation by quieter people.
  • Clear documentation and written reports should be prepared after the meeting to give everyone the insights and measuring tools for the future.
If your business does not have a regular annual or twice-yearly planning schedule, you should find a qualified facilitator and implement the system -- you will soon find that rather than being a 'waste of time' it is one of your most valuable uses of your time.

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