Crafting an Inspiring Annual Plan

By Ted Skinner

Annual Planning

In Chapter 6 of Rhythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth, New York Times bestselling author Patrick Thean dives deeper into annual planning - setting an inspiring vision and measurable goals for the year ahead. This chapter provides practical advice for annual planning that yields crisp execution focus across the organization.

Are You Building a Cathedral or Laying Bricks?

Thean opens the chapter by distinguishing between two modes of planning:

  • Laying Bricks – Tactical, short-term, reactive planning hopping between priorities.
  • Building Cathedrals – Strategic, integrated, vision-led planning focused on the future.

Too often, leadership team planning becomes laying bricks week-to-week and quarter-to-quarter. Annual planning is the opportunity to architect your cathedral – clarify the big-picture vision and metrics for where your organization is headed.

Thean comments: “Annual planning gives you a chance to build cathedrals instead of just laying bricks.”

Components of Strategic Annual Planning

Effective annual planning includes:

  • 3-5 Year Vision – Articulate the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) you are working toward in 3-5 years. Rally the team around the future aspiration.
  • 12-Month Execution Plan – Detail the 1-year measurable annual planning goals and priority projects aligned to your BHAG and winning moves.
  • Inspiring Vision – Craft a vivid vision statement that energizes people around the year ahead. Use vision casting to cascade the plan to your team.
  • Team Accountability – Define clear owners for 1-year goals and priorities across departments.

What are the Steps for Annual Planning?

Thean outlines a process for annual planning facilitators and leaders driving yearly planning:

  • Set the Stage – Ensure all participants understand the process and ground rules upfront. Establish the right mindset.
  • Define Vision – Explore and confirm your 3-5 year BHAG. Envision your desired future state.
  • Establish Goals – Debate and finalize 12-month SMART goals across crucial metrics critical to advancing your BHAG.
  • Identify Priorities – Determine the 3-5 must-win priorities for the year that will drive goal attainment.
  • Assign Ownership – Secure owner commitment for each goal and priority across departments and teams.
  • Create Inspiring Vision – Craft an inspirational vision statement and communications plan.
  • Build Departmental Plans – Cascade 1-year goals into detailed quarterly department plans.

Benefits of Annual Planning

Tight annual planning alignment enables:

  • Strategic clarity on the future vision.
  • Concentrated focus on the vital few priorities.
  • A clear line of sight between department work and strategic goals.
  • Accountability for the execution of priorities.
  • Motivated and empowered cross-functional teams.
  • Proactive course correcting as conditions change.

    In total, annual planning is the essential starting point for strategic execution.

Make Annual Planning Count

Some tips for maximizing the impact of your annual planning:

  • Look Externally First – Start with an outside-in perspective before diving into internal goals and priorities.
  • Timebox Discussions – Keep conversations focused and avoid rabbit holes.
  • Learn from Last Year – Review successes and shortfalls before moving forward.
  • Document Rigorously – Track all goals, projects, owners, and next steps in a living plan.
  • Over-communicate – Enroll the broader organization through updates, town halls, vision casting, etc.
  • Review Quarterly – Revisit and refine annually set goals each quarter in your quarterly planning session.

Following this advice will ensure your annual plan launches your organization forward with clarity and commitment.

Key Annual Planning Takeaways

In summary, core lessons from this chapter include:

  • Annual planning is crucial for defining a strategic vision and focal points.
  • Set an ambitious 3-5 year BHAG and inspiring vision for the year ahead.
  • Define 12-month SMART goals that advance your BHAG.
  • Confirm vital priorities across departments to drive goal attainment.
  • Assign clear owners across all goals and priorities.
  • Over-communicate the annual plan relentlessly.

With consistent annual planning, organizations transform from reactive to strategic and fragmented to integrated. Yearly planning is not just about laying bricks but building cathedrals. It's about setting an inspiring vision and measurable goals for your organization's future. By following a structured process and involving all key stakeholders, you can create strategic clarity, concentrated focus, and accountability for execution. Remember to learn from the past, document rigorously, and communicate effectively to maximize the impact of your annual plan. So, are you ready to start building your cathedral? Let's make this year a breakthrough year for your organization!

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For More Information Check Out These Additional Resources

The Secret to Compounding Business Growth

Identifying Your “Winning Moves” to Double Revenue

A 5-Step Process to Pressure Test Your Growth Strategy


Ted Skinner


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