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It’s Time for Annual Planning, Baby!

Can you believe it's already that time of year again when we all get together and talk strategy? I know, I know, the mere mention of "strategic planning" is enough to make some folks break out in hives. Images of pointless meetings, boring presentations, and stacks of paperwork dance through their heads. But it doesn't have to be that way! Strategic planning can actually be engaging, energizing, and dare I say it...fun?! In this post, we'll walk through how to make your strategic planning process a smashing success. Let's do this!

Tenets of an Effective Strategic Planning Process

Before we dive into the nitty gritty of planning, let's start by laying down some guiding principles. What are the essential tenets or truths we need to keep in mind to design a stellar strategic planning process?

1. Goals Should Align with Business Realities

This one is key. Any goals we set need to be firmly rooted in the actual dynamics and metrics of our business. Rather than pulling goals out of thin air, we should derive them directly from our core metrics. If we don't do this, we run the risk of establishing goals that sound nice on paper but don't actually move the needle because they're not grounded in reality.

2. Single Source of Truth

To prevent confusion and wasted time, we need to have one central strategic plan that outlines our goals, metrics, and initiatives. This document should be the single source of truth that aligns our entire company. No rogue spreadsheets or competing slide decks allowed!

3. Engage the Whole Team

Strategic planning shouldn't be done in a black box by executives. To end up with the best strategy, we need robust participation across the company. The more team members we engage in the process, the better the outcome will be.

4. Make it Engaging

Strategic planning doesn't have to be a snooze fest. With the right approach, it can be lively, collaborative, and dare I say it...fun! We should design the process to be as engaging as possible.

Ok, with those key tenets in mind, let's walk through what an effective strategic planning process looks like.

Phase 1: Look Back Before Moving Forward

Before we start mapping out plans for next year, we first need to look back at our performance over the past year. What goals did we hit? What goals did we miss? Why? Conducting this retrospective will provide invaluable context that will make our planning much sharper.

To complete the retrospective, the data team should partner closely with product, engineering, and other departments. Together, comb through the metrics and identify where we over or underperformed against goals, and the reasons why. Document the key takeaways.

Pro tip: Don't just look at the hard metrics. Use anonymous surveys to gather qualitative feedback from employees on what went well or poorly over the past year. Their insights will further enrich your understanding.

Phase 2: Know Thy Competition

Next, we need to thoroughly analyze the competitive landscape. How is our competitive environment evolving? Where are the opportunities and threats? The product team should lead this effort, but don't operate in a silo. Tap people across the company to contribute perspectives and insights about competitors.

Pro tip: Have a whiteboard handy during this phase to sketch out competitor battle maps!

Phase 3: Map Out the Metrics

Now we're ready to update our company goals. The leadership team should lead the charge here, aligning around goals for our highest level metrics like revenue growth, customer retention, etc.

Then comes everyone's favorite part - cascading! Work through the company's input and output metrics define measurable goals for each, ensuring they all ladder up to the primary objectives. Identify the specific inputs that will be key focus areas.

Pro tip: Get the leadership offsite stat for an intensive workshop to map out the metrics and goals. Lock yourselves in a room with a whiteboard and go to town!

Phase 4: Make It Actionable

We've set the goals, but now we need to get tactical. Each department should meet to outline exactly how they will hit their assigned goals and metrics. The managers will lead this effort with their teams. Be as detailed and specific as possible, calling out measurable milestones. Document each team's plans in a quarterly roadmap.

Pro tip: To get the creative juices flowing, try hosting an innovation workshop where team members rapid-fire bold ideas for achieving goals.

Phase 5: Align Resources to Priorities

With our plans defined, it's time to align resources to support our strategic priorities. The finance team should partner with department leaders to evaluate resource needs and collaborate on allocating budget, headcount, and other assets to the key initiatives.

Pro tip: Resource allocation is often tricky. Use collaborative budgeting software to democratize the process and make it more transparent.

Phase 6: Pull It All Together

The final step is consolidating all the plans from across the company into one cohesive strategy document: the company plan for the upcoming year. The COO and chief of staff typically own this effort, incorporating the inputs from each team into a comprehensive plan with an integrated roadmap.

This central doc should be the single source of truth that aligns the organization. Once finalized, blast it out company-wide and share on the intranet. Let the planning commence!

7 Things That Make Strategic Planning Rock

Embrace these tips and watch your strategic planning process become more engaging, efficient, and effective!

1. Have a Prep Phase - Get people excited for and informed about the process by sharing overview materials in advance. A little priming goes a long way.

2. Use Collaborative Software - Tools like Supernormal enable real-time collaboration and keep a record of meetings that you and your team can go back to.

3. Make it Visual - Take advantage of whiteboards and graphic facilitation to map out goals and plans. It boosts clarity, alignment, and engagement.

4. Go Offsite - Get out of the office! Offsites help people focus on the task at hand without distractions.

5. Gather Insights Broadly - Strategic planning should involve the whole company, not just execs. Broad input yields better strategy.

6. Have Fun with It! - Inject some levity and energy into planning. Strategic doesn't have to mean stuffy.

7. Communicate Clearly - Bookend planning with company-wide communication so everyone understands the process and outcome.

Planning for Success

There you have it folks - everything you need to make strategic planning nimble, collaborative, and gosh darn delightful! It takes some upfront work to design an effective process, but the payoff is huge. Thoughtful planning aligned around business realities is the key to executing a winning strategy. Here's to your most successful year yet! Let me know if you have any other tips for strategic planning awesomeness.

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