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How CEOs Prepare for an Effective Quarterly Planning Session

By Jessica Wishart

    Mon, Aug 31, 2020 @ 11:03 AM Annual & Quarterly Planning

    Excited. Ready. Anxious. Eager. Let’s go!quarterly planning ceo

    Worried. Tired. Stressed. Done. Overwhelmed.

    At the end of a meeting, we usually recommend closing with an exercise where everyone in the room shares one word on how they are feeling leaving the meeting. When you get to the end of your next Quarterly Planning Session, you don’t want to hear the second set of closing remarks. You want the team to leave feeling energized and ready to take on the next 90 days. Successfully achieving your strategy may hinge on it.

    Your Quarterly Planning Session is the lynchpin for the effective execution of your strategic plan. Coming together quarterly is what allows you to look at your progress toward your annual plan year-to-date, decide what may have shifted since you created your annual goals, and figure out the next steps to focus on for this 13 Week Race so you can stay on track to achieving your plan for the year. Without this quarterly exercise, you run the risk of creating a great annual strategic plan that you don’t actually get done.

    Your Quarterly Plan is the vital connection point between your strategy and your weekly and daily work. Without this time to decide as a team where to focus your energy, you may have people working hard but not moving the company forward. Creating the right quarterly plan is essential to have great execution. This is an important meeting, and for it to be as productive and effective as possible, you have to prepare.

    As CEO, here’s what you need to do in advance of your next Quarterly Planning Session:

    • Choose the right facilitator. It can be tempting for some CEOs to run the meeting themselves. However, if you are running the meeting, you are not able to fully participate in the discussions, and it can be hard for your team to push back and share ideas and concerns if you are in this role. Your best bet is to hire an outside facilitator who can be impartial and who has expertise in guiding the team through the right conversations to create the best possible plan—but if that’s not in the budget, choose someone else on your team to take this role. (Check out this list of qualities of a good facilitator to help you choose the right person.)
    • Set the right environment. Have someone on the team take on the logistics of the meeting so you don’t have to worry about it, but don’t completely abdicate responsibility for all the details. For example, consider hosting the meeting at a different location. If you have a great conference room your team loves, you can use it, but we’ve found that it can be distracting for teams who may be more likely to get pulled into the day-to-day work happening around them in the office. Rather than competing with their teams and day jobs for their full attention, having the meeting offsite can give the needed space for the team to really focus, think creatively, and have a great session.
    • Identify key discussions. Once you’ve got a facilitator in place, carefully consider the agenda. Are there specific discussions you need to have as a team? Are there decisions you need to make in order to be able to move forward? Make sure those are front and center on the agenda. Identifying key discussion topics in advance will allow your facilitator to send out prep work so your team members can think about the topics in advance and gather relevant data to bring into the meeting. This will accelerate your time together and ensure you get full value out of the session.
    • Assemble the right team. To build the best plan, you need to have all the right voices in the room. Usually, we recommend having your full executive team present to represent all the key aspects of your business. Those leaders should come prepared to speak for their teams, and they may need to do some pre-planning to understand what issues are most important for their departments coming into this planning session. As a general rule of thumb, these meetings are most effective with a smaller group (5-10 people at most). Once they get larger than that, it can be difficult to hear all the perspectives and have everyone contribute in a meaningful way. If you are having specific discussions that require expertise outside fo the core group of executives typically included in planning, you can invite specific people to join you for those parts of the session.
    • Communicate expectations. As the leader, you set the tone. Communicate how important this meeting is to your team so they take it as seriously as you do. If there’s prep work, be sure you do it, too. Fully participate in the process. Many CEOs like to kick off the meeting before handing it over to the facilitator; you may want to prepare some remarks in advance to be sure you are setting the right tone for an effective session.

    If you’ve done these steps and show up to the session with an open mind, ready to listen, dive in and participate fully, you will have done all you can to set up your meeting for success. The fruit of having a great Quarterly Planning meeting is a great Quarterly Plan that will drive your company’s weekly and daily execution for the next 13 weeks. Setting aside the time to prepare well and plan together will help your team get focused, stay aligned, and remain accountable to your longer-term strategic goals so you can win together as a company.

    Download Free Quarterly Planning Agenda

    Want to learn more about Quarterly Planning? Check out these additional quarterly planning resources:

    Value of Outside Facilitation for Quarterly and Annual Planning

    Using Priorities and Quarterly Rocks to Align Your Organization (Infographic)

    The Anatomy of a Great Quarterly Plan (Infographic)

    Lean Quarterly Planning: How Complex Companies Drive Out Waste

    The Definitive Guide to Quarterly Planning

    Rhythm Systems Quarterly Planning Resource Center

    Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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