Are You Prepared for Your Annual Planning?

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Once a year, you gather your entire leadership team (LT) together to look back and plan for your year ahead. This time together is vital to both ensure you’re all working towards the same future and that everyone on your team has what they need to accomplish their expected impact. Sounds simple but how do you ensure that you’re setting yourself and your team up for success?

First and foremost, do not forget to celebrate your Wins from last year, and to capture those key learnings for your future!

  • Was your theme impactful?  Did your team understand and have the same passion?  If yes, how do we build upon the momentum, if not, what can we do better next year?
  • Was the team successful in maintaining focus?  Who or what was exceptional?  Where can you improve our prioritization, people, or processes next year?
  • Important for the dynamic COO & CEO duo to set the tone for how we fail forward
  • Do not forget to share the real progress and fails from last year’s Future Focus – variance often tells a story.  What were our actual results versus the plan
  • Which of the 5 elements are strengths to build upon, and which of the 5 elements to we need to make progress?
  • This is a great time to talk about the industry – how much market share is there for the taking?
  • What are direct or indirect competitors doing that we may learn from or think about for next year?
  • Be sure we grade the overall results and are aligned on our progress or lack of before moving into next year’s planning – a cohesive leadership team is critical to success

Switching gears from past to our present AND future – at a high level, you’ll need to be prepared for the below:   

  • Identify your theme/big dream for next year
  • Prepare by ensuring you’re focused on what you want to accomplish next year
  • Important for COO/CEO to do a great job of talking through theme and get everyone behind it so it can come to life
  • Future Focus dialed-in to quarterly projects
  • Intentional about 5 elements of framework and how they’re working into annual plan
  • Decision filter and future focus solid and how filter helps us say yes to the right things and no to the wrong things
  • Don’t spend time in the tyranny of the urgent
  • Ensure we’re rowing in the same direction

All sounds great, and you might be asking, how do you accomplish all of this over a two-day period? First, you must prepare before the annual planning. If you’re having regular weekly/bi-weekly meetings with all of your direct reports (and you absolutely should be and if you’re not, start now) you’ll first ensure future focus in this meeting by discussing what they should be working to accomplish in the next year. Be sure to illustrate both the impact of these goals and how they work into the annual plan. Secondly, the COO is responsible for acting as the bridge between CEO and leadership team (LT) by ensuring alignment; therefore, it is vital that they’re on the same page. The less that the CEO and COO are in alignment, the messier the connection between the COO and LT. For example, if the CEO agreed to one thing and then changed their mind and didn’t discuss with or inform the COO, you’re broadcasting to your leadership there is confusion, or displaying a lack of respect to the rest of the LT.  This of course works in reverse, and certainly another LT team member could hurt the CEO & COO relationship if they are dropping surprises that the COO never had an opportunity to talk or think through.  No one loves surprises in a group. You know what an ununited front leads to? Cracks- cracks in communication which leads to cracks in the foundation of what you’re trying to accomplish as a team.

Now let’s say that you and your leadership team are aligned, and you’ve done what you need to prepare for the annual planning. Now what? How do you ensure you get what you need from the next two days together? Most importantly the CEO & COO need to be prepared to communicate effectively what the theme for the year ahead, and who is communicating what during the session together. This is how you’ll work together to accomplish this, and there is no right or wrong way unless there is not alignment, and you drag your team through a public disagreement because you did not put in the work on the front end.  Once you’ve done this, you’ll tie the big goal back to your Future Focus (annual plan) and illustrate how every new project you set will contribute to this overall goal.

It’s important to consider that every project that you set for the final quarter should not only have a clear tie-in to your overall theme or vision for the year ahead, but it also likely should improve or support one or more of the below:

  • Future Focus: Projects in support of your future focus could include those focused on improving some aspect of your business for the long-term or redefining an important aspect such as your Why, niche, go to market strategy, 3-Year Plan, or 1-Year Plan.
  • Organizational Structure: Projects in support of your organizational structure typically address role alignment, priorities, and processes with goals.
  • Results & Reports: Projects in support of results & reports work to identify areas where there might be gaps in the activities, you’re monitoring to develop your reporting on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.  Your weekly activities will ladder up to the monthly and quarterly goals that will lead to your exceeding your Annual Operating Plan (AOP).
  • Culture: Projects in support of your culture need to be focused on improving some aspect of developing or maintaining a healthy culture such as the right leadership, management, or accountability efforts.
  • Execution: Projects in support of execution provide productive clarity on how one can accomplish the impact they’re accountable for.  

If you’re having trouble deciding which projects should be a priority, run them through the Strategic Decision Filter.

  • How is this relevant to our Future Focus, specifically our Guiding Principles, Our Why, Our Impact Goal, and Our Niche?
  • How does it help us Achieve our 1 or 3 Year Plans?
  • How do we get the resources or the ability to achieve the Annual or Quarterly Project(s)?

If your project clearly aligns with the above and you’re able to articulate its impact on the overall plan, it’s likely a good fit. It’s important to keep in mind that just because it’s urgent, doesn’t mean it’s a top priority for the company. Especially considering that anything else that’s important but not a good use of the LTs time can be delegated to the LT direct reports’ teams. In fact, it’s vital to empower other teams with opportunities which impact your quarterly and annual goals. Though it can certainly feel otherwise at times, every single person in the organization impacts your progress towards goals and the LT cannot achieve success without every person rowing in the same direction.

Lastly, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the company of your LT! Who we are doing life with is vitally important! It isn’t every day that you get the chance to connect outside the office, free from the tyranny of the urgent. Get to know each other over a good meal or by engaging in a board game. At the end of the day, we’re all people who chose to serve on this team alongside each other and that’s pretty special.

-Paul Boyd, CEO Force Scaling

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