The DO’s and DON’Ts of Kicking Off Strategic Planning Season

Different Perspectives Strengthen Planning.

Illustration from “Talk Matters” by Mary Gelinas (Friesen Press).

For senior management of growing businesses, Labor Day marks the end of scheduling around vacations and a transition into strategic planning season. Ideally, strategic plans can be completed and used as input for operating budgets late in the year. So autumn can be perfect timing for plan updates.

Looking back at decades of strategic planning leadership with hundreds of management teams across many industries and continents, here’s what we’ve learned about kicking off strategic planning season:

  1. Don’t distribute strategic planning templates to be filled out, or start slogging through planning software platforms. These result in plan documents, not consensus on a growth strategy.

  2. Do dig into customer sales details – what are they buying or not buying, in larger and smaller quantities, on what frequency? What products get returned? What services do customers use and not use? Check our reviews.

  3. Please don’t ask your team to list accomplishments from the current plan. Using that as the planning kickoff almost guarantees there won’t be much out-of-the-box thinking about growing the business for the future.

  4. Do propose a more productive assignment — listing competitors’ recent accomplishments, to better understand what choices your customers have in the marketplace.

  5. Don’t start by updating the SPOT Check. Making lists of Strengths, Problems, Opportunities and Threats is a tool better used later on to evaluate strategy recommendations.

  6. Do start your planning update with a review of sales volume by product or territory or major customer or season or distribution channel or partner. Though focused onto today’s business, this exercise can be a good search for future opportunities.

  7. And it’s always a good idea to review market or customer research, to give the customer a voice in the planning.

  8. Don’t assign a business book for everyone the management team to read and discuss before the planning begins. Book clubs are better with younger folks involved.

  9. If there’s one book to read beforehand, it’s Talk Matters by Mary Gelinas. Start with chapter 9: Listen Attentively. It will lead your team right into productive strategic planning because the core planning activity, and the best way to kickoff the planning process, is with management team dialogue.

By Rob Eskridge and Ryan Stock


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