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Planning Session Preparation Tips

5 min read

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Published January 31, 2020

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Picture of Jessica Wishart

Jessica Wishart
Senior Product Manager at Rhythm Systems

Preparation is one of the keys to a successful planning session.  One of best things you can do to ensure that you’ll have a solid plan at the end of your session is to get your teams’ brains working before they even enter the room.  Assigning some homework for your team to complete prior to the session will help them come prepared to make the best use of the time you’ve carved out for your session.  You are making a big investment by pulling your top people out of their day jobs and into a room for two days of planning, so it behooves you to do everything you can to get the best results from this time.  


With that in mind, we recommend an exercise called Start, Stop, Keep.  This is a simple exercise in which you ask your team to list three to five items in each category:

Start - This is a list of a few things that each person wants to start doing in the next quarter.  This is the place to list any new initiatives, new habits, or new processes your team wants to start in the quarter.

Stop - This is a list of things your team wants to stop doing.  They can list anything that they feel is a time-waster or any initiatives that are unsuccessful or opportunities they view as distracting the team from achieving long term goals.

Keep - This is where your team can list any priorities that may need to carry over into the next quarter or new practices/processes that are working well and should be kept.

Making this list will get your team thinking and help them to be in the right frame of mind for the session.  You can download our form and distribute it to your team prior to your session.  We recommend sending it to all participants two weeks before the session and asking the team to return the completed forms to the facilitator prior to the session.  This way, if the facilitator notices a pattern of issues that are important to discuss during the session, she or he can adjust the agenda in advance to have time for important issues that came out in the prep work.  

At the executive team level, it is important to give session participants enough time to discuss potential Start, Stop, Keep ideas with their direct reports.  Departmental leaders should make every effort to get their teams’ contributions so that the discussions at the executive team level reflect important issues and ideas from those working on the front line closest to the customers and their concerns.

During the session, you can use the team’s prep work as a springboard for your discussion on priorities for the quarter.  Even if you don’t spend time discussing each item from the lists in depth during your planning session, it is important to acknowledge the teams’ contributions.  You want them to feel heard to gain buy in from everyone for the decisions you do make for the quarter.

If you are a Rhythm strategy execution software user, you can use the new Quarterly Planning Prep screens in Rhythm to record your Start, Stop, Keep exercise for the quarter.  Each person on your team can add their ideas and agree with others’ ideas.  You can post attachments with supporting materials if needed and even make comments to begin discussing important topics with the team before the session starts.

Remember to prepare well for your session to get the best results, and good luck in your next planning session!  If you're interested in more planning tips just follow the link!


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Looking for more Annual Planning Meeting 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

Rhythm Systems Annual Planning Resource Center