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

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



By Rob Eskridge and Ryan Stock

For senior management of growing businesses, Labor Day marks a transition into strategic planning season. Ideally, strategi


c plans will be used as input


for budgeting later in the year. So autumn can be perfect timing for a plan update, bringing differing viewpoints into the discussion, especially customers’ perspectives.

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:


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • Don’t start by upda


ting the SPOT Check. Making lists of Strengths, Problems, Opportunities and Threats is a tool better used later on to evaluate strategy possibilities.

  • 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.

  • And do review market or customer research, to give the customer a voice in the planning.

  • 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.

  • If there is a 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 strategic planning activity, and the best way to kickoff the fall planning process, is with management team dialogue.

  • Don’t kickoff the planning by setting a date and offsite venue for the planning meeting, unless it’s really about the golf game and scheduling some offsite discussion around available tee times. Though corporate offsites aren’t dead, for planning they’re being replaced by much more efficient approa


ches for today’s data-rich, time-starved business environment.

  • Do start your strategic planning season by scheduling a two-hour management meeting to begin the dialogue.

Invite someone from sales who knows your customers or even a trusted customer; and invite someone who sits in the middle of your business operations, someone who has to deal with all the problems that arise. Then invest the discussion time identifying business issues that are timely to address, without solving them, offering insight, playing devil’s advocate or going down any rabbit holes which you stumble upon. Just identify the issues facing the business, select those to address now and stay focused on this task.

During the conversation, you might ask questions about the business future – what are the crossroads ahead that will demand strategic choices? Ask what trends are worrisome and which ones offer hope? And questions about the supply of human capital and raw materials. And questions about the linkage between products and services, why competitors win business, what’s in your idea pipeline or how partnerships could become more win-win. Encourage and treasure the diverse opinions that are expressed. Better plans emerge.

Active dialogue about these “crossroads issues” is how we lead our clients to kickoff their strategic planning season. It gets everyone thinking at a whole-business altitude. It sets the stage for even more focused dialogue and for decision choices about how to grow the business during the next several years.

And one more


Do: Give me a call on my mobile at 800-AGENDAS. Even evenings and weekends are OK. Let’s discuss the best way to kickoff your strategic planning season. Our team can guide your team through the most insightful, efficient, interactive, visual and enjoyable planning journey of your career.