Now’s the time to plan for next year – if it’s not too late already

Now’s the time to plan for next year – if it’s not too late already

It’s August, you’re a Leader-Manager, and summer is flying by at its usual brisk clip. Time to get moving, fast – it’s almost too late to be starting the planning process.


The best thing you can do to improve your planning process is to start now. Or already have started! Because once Labour Day goes by, and you take in your next breath, the end of the year is here before you know it.

Start early, and you give planning its due.

Just about every study ever completed on the topic finds that clearly articulated, well understood, measurable, documented plans are far more likely to be achieved than “let’s do better this year” or “I think I saw the annual plan, I can’t remember.”

Great planning pays off.

Where do you start?

Start with vision. You should already have, you should always have, a vision or aspiration for where you want your organization to be 3 years from now. That vision should be defined, clear, and measurable.

And if by any chance there’s one plasticized on the wall? Stand up, get out there now, take it down, and burn it. A new year means a fresh start.

Before your first planning meeting

Plan! Set a date to get together as a team to make decisions as to how you’ll deliver on your vision, and achieve those 3-year targets. Be directive (you’ll see more on this, in my next blog, on Courage):

  • This meeting will take place on the ##th of September.
  • Here is the preparation each of you will do, which will be completed and circulated to the team 5 days in advance.
  • We won’t be wasting time; we’ll be making decisions quickly.
  • The planning process and the decisions made will be documented and transparent.

Pull together this year’s data. When you first meet, you’ll start by reviewing what went well – successes, what didn’t go well – misses. Whether you achieved, surpassed or failed to meet your targets, what surprises you encountered, how well you kept to budget, where the exceptions were, and any other observations or events of note.

First planning meeting

Situational review. This is your environmental scan to spot emerging opportunities and competitive threats. And an internal capability scan to identify gaps.

Define winning. Define how you’ll measure success – financially and operationally.

Discuss your organizational structure / talent. Do you need changes? How well is it your structure working? Are you hiring, recognizing and nurturing talent?

Lay out a planning schedule. When do you have to be done – by what day? How many meetings will you need? Sweat the details, lay out the planning calendar, with the goal of having the process complete by mid-December.

First and/or additional meetings

Define your story. You need a story for where you’re going. One you can all tell at the drop of a hat. Because if you don’t know where you’re going, it not only doesn’t matter which road you take – you won’t even know when you get there. What is your strategy for winning?

Resources. What resources will you need to achieve your chosen goals? What organizational and structural resources are required?

Most critically: “Who’s good, and who isn’t? Who do we let go?” In almost every business I’ve worked with, the Timekiller People are alive and well. They just haven’t been dealt with, year after year. Nothing, will improve your goal achievement better than to annually let go the people who don’t fit, and hire people who you have reason to believe do. True, it’s not fun. Yes, you need courage. But you have to do it, or you’re daily shooting yourself in the foot.

Commitment trumps elegance. You can hire expensive outside resources, and ask them to build an answer to your question of your three-year goal, or your story. But it won’t work. Because the only people who will be committed – and even they are suspect – are the pricey consulting firm. Adults like to act on what they themselves have created; they feel and take more ownership.

Collaborate and communicate

Until not too long ago, collaboration didn’t feature much in annual planning. The process was top-down and narrowly financial, a command-and-control world. On many levels, there was less involvement, less collaboration, and less commitment.

Collaboration takes time. Put time in your planning calendar for the requirements of collaboration, innovation, and brainstorming. As well, the rapid change of today’s world adds to the challenges of planning, the external environment changes quickly.

Great communication. Communication of your strategic plan sounds like a no-brainer. “Yes, of course we’ll do that!” But do your teams actually know what’s ahead, once you’ve prepared and delivered the communication? Did anything sink in? Do they care, does it matter?

Engage leadership at all levels, don’t just talk to them. Communication has to be clear – couched in outward terms the recipient is comfortable with – and exciting. If it’s jargon-filled and C-suite-centric, your people will doze through and not retain. Ditto if it’s not exciting. Build some excitement, or you may as well not bother.

Keep your eyes on the things you can’t see

Back in the 50s and 60s, ‘party games’ were played at social gatherings. One, The Tray Game, played on our human tendency to focus on what is in view, rather than what isn’t. In this game, a tray of random items was introduced – say a ring, a bar of soap, a razor, a coin, and so on. Once the attendees had had a chance to look, the tray was taken away, one item was removed, and the tray was returned. The winner was the first person to identify what was missing.

How many British organizations had done any planning for a ‘yes’ result in the June 2016 Brexit vote?

All this to say – humans tend to be weak at considering what isn’t in front of us. We focus on motion, anything happening now. So – keep your eyes on the things you can’t see in the planning process. How many organizations were affected by the recent plunge in oil prices (dropping 69% from June 2014 to February 2016)? How many were prepared? How many British organizations had done any planning for a ‘yes’ result in the June 2016 Brexit vote?

Looking ahead to team meetings in 2018: Team effectiveness

Decide what the checking and monitoring process will be for 2018. Ask yourselves:

  • Do we meet often enough? Were we candid enough?
  • Did we get surprises? If so, why?
  • Will we work differently in 2018 in terms of monitoring and tracking our progress?
  • Do we need more monitoring and checking of external events so we can see them coming?
  • Are our roles totally clear, so we can be more efficient?

In summary

Have you booked that September planning meeting yet?