How Fast Growing Companies Do Strategy and Planning

What Matters in Annual Strategy and Planning (part 2 of 3)
By Bill Gallagher

meeting workshopLast week I wrote about the importance of companies preparing for strategic planning meetings – and this week I’ll address the meetings themselves. We’ll be doing this from the context of the Four Decisions from Scaling Up (by Verne Harnish and our team at Gazelles): People, Strategy, Execution and Cash.

I’ve been to countless planning meetings, and they run the gamut from “completely transformative” to “utter waste of time.” What’s the difference between powerful sessions that drive growth and those that simply go through the motions? There’s no single answer…but there are some basic ways to increase the chances of being in the former category. Let’s look at a few key elements:

  1. Set the stage: Consider an afternoon and dinner start on the evening before your main meeting. This may seem minor, but I can tell you from experience that it makes a huge difference. That’s because participants get related and engaged early on the key topics. Send your leadership team to bed thinking about the top priorities. That will produce the best thinking, on both a conscious and subconscious level. Open the next morning with a warm welcome and a round of good news, and then go over the ground rules, your agenda, and the intended outcomes. You’ll need alignment to keep the meeting on track and not run out of time in any section.
  2. Review: Do a no-blame review of last year’s results (or projections) to see where you are now. Ask the team what you’ve learned from the year. Then analyze current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).
  3. Strategy: Reexamine your strategy with a review of long-term goals, company values, purpose and business strategy. Determine if they all still apply and are still driving growth, or if they need some work. 
  4. People: Now consider whether you have the right people on the bus, and if they are in the right seats. Discuss if your people are also all doing the right things, and if your leadership team is healthy and aligned. Would you enthusiastically rehire everyone if you had to start over today?
  5. Cash: Do you have enough cash to fund growth? Can you improve cash by reducing errors, cycle times, or the current business model, in any part of the business?
  6. Execution: Now you are ready to set the top one to five goals, and the top initiatives to achieve your company goals. Then set departmental goals and priorities to align with the company’s goals and initiatives. Wrap it up by creating goals and initiatives for your first quarter. Plan smart by having measures, dates, and owners for everything you plan. Complete your execution planning by creating and declaring a fun and memorable theme for the first quarter.

When facilitating the session, have participants do their own thinking and writing first, and then share around the table. You want to avoid a few strong voices from defining and dominating the conversation. You also want to have the CEO/owner/founder go last, as others are often too willing to defer to them rather than sharing their real opinions. Make sure you have someone capturing all the action items and noting who is accountable for each over the course of the meeting, and discuss and align all the action items for the final draft of the output.

There’s certainly lots more that you could do, but this is the core that makes for a successful year ahead. In my next piece, we’ll look at how to make the results of a great planning session stick.

* We have a download of useful team planning worksheets and a one page strategic plan that you can use here: Growth Tools

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