3 Must-Do's for Strategic Planning (and 1 Thing You Should Never Do)

By Alan Gehringer


Planning is very important to set your Strategic Planningcompany up for a successful year. You have probably heard the saying, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." This is essentially a paraphrase of an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Chapter 6 of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

Strategic planning is very similar in that you are setting the direction for the upcoming year and clearly defining what the team needs to work on to hit your company’s goals. In order to be successful, let’s look at 3 must-do's and 1 thing you should never do.

1. Do prepare for a great session.

You do not want your team members to show up to your planning session unprepared. It takes some mental energy and forethought to get into the right mindset to plan effectively. Giving the team members a couple of weeks before the session to reflect and prepare goes a long way to making the session a success. Here a few things I recommend you have the team do:

  • Think about what the company should start doing, stop doing and keep doing.
  • Reflect on the previous year if you are doing annual planning and the most recent quarter. What worked, what did not and what lessons have we learned?
  • Have each team member review any strategies, annual initiatives or priorities they own to status how they are progressing and prepare to discuss them with the team.
  • Start thinking about what the initiatives and priorities should be for the next year and quarter.
  • Do any necessary research and gather data to bring to the session so that informed decisions can be made.
  • Meet with department members to learn what is on their minds and what they are thinking for the future.
  • Prepare any preliminary budgets, marketing and sales plans that are needed to support the planning process.

2. Do hire a facilitator.

Strategic Planning

This is essential if you need the best possible outcome. He or she will push the team during planning to develop clear annual initiatives and quarterly priorities. And, no, I am not looking for work, but trust me, it makes a difference. There can be drawbacks when the CEO leads the sessions, as team members are often intimidated and follow their lead rather than speaking their true minds and contributing original thoughts and ideas. Additionally, the CEO cannot participate the way they want to due to managing the process and mediating the discussions. An expert facilitator can mediate difficult discussions and ensure that everyone on the team is participating and adding value.

Facilitating your team’s strategy discussion is hard. It is really difficult to facilitate and participate in important discussions at the same time.

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3. Do communicate and cascade your plan to the next level of the organization.

You planned as a leadership team, but the real magic happens when you get the next level of managers aligned with the company plan and have them develop a quarterly plan for their functional department. Their plans should support the company plan, while also having priorities that improve how their area operates and contributes to the company’s success. Just like the company plan, the teams should have 3-5 top level priorities for the quarter and each individual should have 3-5 individual priorities that support the team priorities.

It is even more important to exercise the "less is more" approach at this level as these folks are more engrained in the day to day activities of making product or serving customers. Teams should share their plans with leadership as well was as the other teams to break down silos and look for opportunities to work cross functionally.

Once the company and departmental plans are complete, it is essential to develop a plan to communicate the highlights to everyone in the company. You can determine how much information to share, but it is very important that everyone knows where the company is going and what the goals and priorities are for the year. This gives people direction and provides them the opportunity to support the company’s efforts at all levels.

Facilitating your team’s strategy discussion is hard. It is really difficult to facilitate and participate in important discussions at the same time.

And one thing you should never do is facilitate the meeting yourself. Even if you do not hire an expert facilitator, choose someone that can effectively run the session to ensure everyone is heard and that a senior leader does not dominate the session or influence it disproportionately. It is important that every smart brain in the room is engaged and participating.

The facilitator needs to have the ability synthesis the concepts and contributions from the team to arrive at common themes that will become your priorities. They also need to be able to mediate and diffuse heated conversations to keep the work moving forward. They need to be able to keep the team at the right level of strategic thinking and out of the day-to-day operations. And one last thing, take the planning session off site if at all possible, to help minimize the distractions.

“We have never missed an Annual or Quarterly Planning Session. Having a Rhythm Facilitator has been critical in helping us navigate from 50 employees to 1,000.” - Michael Praeger CEO, AvidXchange

So, there you have it, 3 things you must do for strategic planning and one you should not. I wish you the very best as you finish up the year and prepare for following. As always, please share your thoughts. Very best, Alan

Download Free Annual Planning Best Practices Guide

Looking for more information to help get you started? Check out our additional resources:

Annual Planning: 9 Tips to Focus & Align Your Team with a Great Plan

Annual Planning Playbook: 5 Steps to Create a Winning Annual Plan

How CEOs Can Avoid High-Cost Mistakes in Annual Planning

Best Practices for Annual Planning

How to Conduct an Annual Planning Meeting

Rhythm Systems Annual Planning Resource Center

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Alan Gehringer


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images