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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The planning meeting (2)

The setting for the 2008-2009 planning meeting, a secluded lake chalet. We held this year's meeting at a dining room table at consultant Bill Caswell's Ottawa residence. The result: A strenuous and somewhat tiring day -- but we got (most of) the job done, and began to shape the picture for a much better year in 2010. Planning is essential, even if sometimes it can be painful in hard times.

The planning meeting yesterday proved to be long, tiring, and somewhat strenuous -- and as the clock ticked and our minds started frying with fatigue -- we concluded it without working through a key element of the planning process, the 2010 expense projections. Our consultants, led by Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company, realizing that we lacked time to do this during the meeting, promised to pull together the numbers and prepare them in the overall report.

Several new employees attended, and two participated remotely. Designer Ray Levielle joined us by video link and Bob Kruhm in North Carolina spent all day on the phone. Unlike previous meetings, while I had a camera with me, I failed to capture a picture of the gathering.

The numbers this year showed the reality, horrendous losses earlier this year, some degree of stability and even gains this summer, and another bout of losses in the months immediately before the meeting (relating in part to the departure of a couple of sales representatives). The year-end looks okay, and -- at least on the revenue side -- the next year appears promising.

We "resolved" several key issues by agreeing to assign employees to co-ordinate ideas/answers. Of course, this reflects the reality that you cannot solve all problems in a single meeting.

Were there flashes of insights, magical answers, and clear resolutions of issues? The answer, I'm afraid, is "no".

In reality, the meeting couldn't achieve its full potential in part because of the necessary restraints. We were trying to force two days of intensive business decision-making into one, and we needed to operate in a setting/environment which, while functional, didn't allow the fullest natural environment for creativity and innovation.

These are the realities of operating in austerity. (Of course, spending the full cost of a complete meeting like we had last year, would have drained our budgets by $10,000 or more -- and I shudder to think about what that type of expense would do to our operating numbers.)

Nevertheless, I'm convinced the planning meeting/process is an essential for any business which wishes to grow beyond the tiny stage. You can, if necessary, hold the costs down, but it is not something to forgo. So, even though I am writing a less-than-enthusiastic review of my own meeting, I still consider it to be a success.

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