What’s Your Plan? 3 Activities Smart CEOs Add to Annual Planning

Written by Carol Coughlin. Posted in Business Leadership

Annual planning has a tendency to look very similar across companies. Equally, if you take a look at the advice consultants and other experts tout this time of year, it’s pretty much the same as well.

Examine financials and operational data from the past year, make projections, set goals and develop a plan for achieving those goals.

While certainly annual planning needs to include these activities and more, there are other less traditional actions that, if considered, can make a significant difference in how well an organization transitions from one year to the next. As well as, set the stage for increased inspiration, motivation and achievement in the coming year.

Here are 3 activities I recommend that CEOs add to their annual planning that go beyond the traditional, emphasize conscious leadership and help them better guide their company’s future:

Celebrate What Went Well & Accentuate It

While this may seem like an obvious activity, it’s often handled behind the scenes through bonuses or, if people are recognized publicly, in a way that’s inherently not as inclusive as it needs to be to have the desired impact.

When I talk to CEOs about celebrating what went well, I also explain how they can leverage these successes to further define and communicate their company’s niche. After all, no company can be all things to all people and still be successful. Rather, companies need to focus on what they do well.

When you shine the spotlight on what went right in the right way, it becomes a celebration of your company’s sweet spot and encourages your entire team to enter the New Year with a renewed sense of energy around what your company does best.

In the same way, celebrating with an eye toward core competencies also focuses the annual planning effort itself, putting a halt to unproductive sidebars so that more brainpower can be exerted around how to leverage and expand from that existing solid core.

Put Strategy First, Planning Second

Often, the annual planning process can feel like you’re merely checking the boxes, and equally often leaders and teams like it that way – at least unconsciously. After all, planning is easier than strategy, it requires less risk and it’s a tempting comfort zone to stay in.

But in this time of technological and competitive disruption, as well as ultra-transparency (such as apps that review what a company is doing), it’s important to step back and make sure your company is not only going through the motions.

In other words, it’s important to assess whether the agreed upon strategy is taking the company in the right direction or if a change needs to be made.

We are not saying that planning isn’t important. It is very important; however, planning should only occur after that strategic examination is complete.

Make Change Meaningful to Everyone

CEOs who do put strategy first and planning second might find themselves leading change initiatives in near future. When this is the case, it’s critical to communicate the rationale and meaning behind that change and enroll your team in that story.

The importance of this can’t be overemphasized.

Transforming an organization takes an incredible amount of commitment from every single person involved – from leadership all the way to those responsible for managing inventory, conducting installations, handling customer service. Meaning, whatever tasks are relevant to your company will be impacted. Your team needs to see you as a leader personally invested in the change, and making changes in your own leadership to take the company where it needs to go.

If, as CEO, you lead change in more conscious way than you ever have before, you will also be creating an organization that’s more agile and adaptable for the future. An organization that’s able to pivot and seize opportunity, as well as to respond and perform effectively in the face of the challenges sure to come.

The Bottom Line

The reality is that leadership is changing. To think that the most foundational tools of leadership – such as annual planning – won’t need to change along with it, is to stay stuck in old models that no longer deliver the results they once did.

We are at a point where honing ourselves as CEOs is likely the single most important key to the future success of our companies, and tying the changes we are making in how we lead to how our companies actually operate is imperative.

That is, if we want our effort to be meaningful, rather than merely academic.


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Carol Coughlin

Carol Coughlin founded BottomLine Growth Strategies, Inc., in 2006 as a way for small and medium-sized businesses to access the same high-level financial and operational expertise that gives large companies a distinct advantage. Using her own extensive corporate experience and willingness to sit in the hot seat as a catalyst, Carol helps BottomLine Growth clients climb to the summit of their success.
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