It may seem daunting to tackle your Strategic Annual Planning session for 2021. With so much uncertainty due to the ongoing pandemic, economic crisis, and upcoming election, it may be tempting for some company leaders to postpone planning. The temptation is understandable; nobody wants to waste time crafting a detailed annual plan that will have to be scrapped in Q1, which happened to many of us in 2020.
But, the truth is, your team is looking to you for direction. Everyone in your company is going to be working on something Jan. 1, and without direction from you on the strategic goals for the company for the year, how can they be confident they are working on the right things? Your job as CEO or executive leader is to provide direction and help your people see how their work connects to the company’s goals. In uncertain times, providing a vision for the company and a strategic direction for the year is even more important to your people—they are looking to you.
You need a plan, but you can’t pretend all these external factors aren’t going to influence your ability to achieve your goals. Your process for 2021 strategic annual planning has to look different. Now’s the time to evaluate your planning process and decide what to start, stop and keep doing. Here are some examples of the kinds of decisions you may need to make for your planning process.
- Scenario Planning: Many of you are doing this now. When you are setting your financial targets for 2021, you should identify possible scenarios based on what you know now and your best guess at how different scenarios could impact your business (your customers, your supply chain, your employees, etc.). You’ll need to set targets for the best case and worst case; develop a Plan A and a Plan B for your year.
- Talk to Customers: Understanding your customers’ needs, challenges, and opportunities have never been more important. As you head into your planning process for 2021, you need to think deeply about how you can deliver unique value to your customers. This should inform your strategic decision making.
- 2-Day Planning Event: Turn your planning event into a process. Start now with discovery, market research, gathering data, and beginning the conversation. Schedule time to work on the plan for the year, and be sure to have a process in place for revisiting and adjusting the plan based on what you are learning as time goes on. Rather than spending 2 full days in a meeting room with your team, you might schedule multiple half-day sessions over the course of the next several months to have some discussions, make some decisions, and learn and adjust the plan.
- Waiting to Work on Strategy: You need to wait for your formal planning meeting to work on your strategy. If you know that one or more of your winning moves is no longer valid due to changing market conditions, don’t wait to pull the plug. Don’t waste any more time or energy on a losing move. Redeploy those resources to something else now, and begin working with your executive team on what opportunity might replace that revenue growth strategy.
- Virtual Planning: Many companies switched their in-person quarterly planning sessions to virtual meetings out of necessity this year. Consider keeping this format for your annual planning session, too. Our facilitators have found this to be highly effective for having focused discussions, and with everyone working so hard on day-to-day operations, it can be easier to schedule a virtual session.
- Prepare Well: While this is always the best practice for your planning process, preparation has never been more important to your success. Keep your preparation process, and double down to ask the team to do more thinking in advance of your planning process meetings so you can accomplish more with the precious time you are taking together to do this work.
Hopefully, these examples give you some food for thought. If you take nothing else away, remember this: your team is looking to you for answers. You need to start working on your company’s future direction now.
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