Kickoff and Take Charge This Year!

Penn_State_kickoffA great team needs a powerful planning session, a good huddle, and a big kickoff, to deliver a great game. Your team needs the same things to create breakthrough results. I get paid to plan and facilitate these meetings all over the world, but I’m going to share my secrets now, so that you can run your own meeting like a pro!

The best companies have an annual kickoff and quarterly meetings. Some companies do this twice a year, but nobody should skip the chance to plan the year and kick it off right. Even if your year has already begun, it still makes sense to do this now. Here are 5 steps to kicking off a great year:

1) Come up with 2-5 outcomes for you meeting. Why are you doing it and what do you want to leave with when it’s over? Some typical outcomes include: 

  • Completing the last year and celebrating its accomplishments
  • Clearing the slate to create the new year
  • Aligning the team
  • Sharing company goals and getting buy-in
  • Creating departmental and individual goals
  • Brainstorming and prioritizing strategies
  • Creating tactical and action plans
  • Creating a theme for the year

2) Pick a location for your meeting. What is the message or feeling you want to create with the location? Is it scrappy, creative, celebratory, visionary, or professional? I think you should almost never have this onsite, even if you have a dedicated meeting space. Getting out of your office not only eliminates most interruptions and the pull to do some regular work, but it most importantly helps to foster new ideas and new thinking by changing the environment.

3) Ask your team to prepare by thinking over the last year and answering a few questions in private notes. Give them this:

  • Look over your calendar and notes for the last year
  • Note everything significant that you did and list all the facts
  • List everything that you are proud of from the year
  • List any regrets
  • Note anything that you need to say to others about the last year
  • List things that you want to thank specific people for
  • What personal events do you anticipate in the new year?
  • What matters to you and motivates you now?
  • Make some notes on what you want to do and accomplish now
  • What new habits or practices could you take on this year?
  • Bring your notes to the meeting!

4) Prepare and practice your agenda before leading the meeting. Using a facilitator like me is great but if your budget is tight, you can do it yourself. A half day session is the minimum, but one day works for most teams. Some companies meet for 2-3 days. Here’s an agenda and flow for your meeting that you can start with:

  • Welcome, review purpose, outcomes, and your agenda.
  • Review last years results and highlights for the company. Think about the participant prep as you prepare the company review. Set the tone for the participants to be acknowledged, and have leadership take responsibility for companywide breakdowns. 
  • Let participants share their accomplishments, proud moments, regrets, and make a few acknowledgements to others. If the group is big, start with department heads and then break into groups or pairs, so everyone gets to speak.
  • Declare the last year complete. Let people know that if they think of anything else in the future, that they want say about the last year, that they should do so when it comes up and not hold it in. Make sure that all have joined you in declaring the last year complete. Some teams like to do something physical to symbolize letting go of the last year. You can ritualize this if it works for you by burning the notes, or tearing them up and tossing them away. 
  • Share 3-5 goals for the company in the new year and ask for alignment. Goals are best done top-down in most companies. Create and share goals for sales, margin (at least gross margin level), some kind of units or product/service goal, and then one or two other strategic goals (launch of a new product, new division, major systems, new distribution, media coverage, etc.). Goals should be big and exciting but not so hard that they depress people for being unattainable.
  • Brainstorm possible strategies for accomplishing your goals. A simple way to do this is to let people know that all ideas are good and welcome, even silly ones. Have people write 2+ ideas down on big post-it notes before discussion. Then go around and have people share their ideas and put them on a wall. As you go around sharing ideas, people can write down any new ideas on more post-its. Try to group the ideas and collapse duplicates on your wall.
  • strategy prioritiesPrioritize and select your top strategies with a “priority star” exercise. Put your top strategies on a clean flip chart (see photo). 3-9 strategies work best, but you can do more if you need to. Starting with the top strategy, ask the group if it drives the next one, or the other way around, and draw an arrow. Then do the same with the next one, until you have done them all. The diagram will now look like my example. Count the arrows pointing to each. Your first priority is the one with the fewest arrows pointing to it.
  • Create a theme for the year. This is something that you can do advance thinking on, but it’s best to let the whole team finish it for maximum ownership and impact. Afterwards you can work your theme into coffee mugs, t-shirts, hats, posters, etc. The theme will keep the core ideas alive all year.
  • Let people set individual and departmental goals now to fulfill on the strategies and company goals. Make sure that all are a match for the goals of the year.
  • You can do detailed action plans now or just have people create some new habits and practices that fit the new goals and strategies. If your time allows, you can work through each department and person to create actions that would deliver your outcomes. Pay particular attention to the distinction between outcomes and actions. Sales and revenues are outcomes of actionsin prospecting, pitching, closing, delivering, invoicing, and collecting. Start dates are more powerful for actions than finish dates, but often overlooked.
  • Capture all the work of the meting day. A modern phone camera does a great job of this. You can have have someone transcribe it all later, outsource the transcription, or just print images of all the work.
  • Thank everyone for their participation and contributions. Let them say a few things. Remind them to post their plans in the office, to load them into calendars, todo lists, and into other regular systems. Toast the new year and team, or take them out for a meal, as fits your culture.

5) After your meeting is over and you are back in the office, get all the plans and materials into your regular management structures. Work them into your agendas, put check-ins into your calendars. Go around and make sure all your team has done the same. If you don’t project manage the fulfillment and the team now, it will just be some good ideas and a nice day that made no difference to your results. It’s also a great idea to file a copy of everything away so that you can review before the next annual meeting or a mid year meeting.

If you have any questions, or if you need some help with your meeting, email or call me directly at +1-510-409-4089.

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