Unveiling the Strategic Power of Your Annual Plan

By Patrick Thean

Annual Planning

Hostopia’s Challenges

When I met Colin Campbell, he was the CEO of Hostopia. Hostopia was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and from the outside looking in, business was great! But on the inside, Colin and his team were running from crisis to crisis, missing deadlines and disappointing customers. The board was frustrated. 

Colin was a successful serial entrepreneur, and his problems are typical of companies that are growing. What used to work was no longer working. He needed a new approach. 

When he visited his friend’s office and saw some of our work, Red-Yellow-Green dashboards, on the wall, his curiosity was sparked. He asked his buddy Jeffrey to introduce him to me, and that's how we got connected.

When I visited Hostopia, I noticed a familiar pattern. Hostopia had too many good things happening–too many opportunities. They were overeating from the buffet of opportunity!  This indigestion caused their work teams to start and stop projects, or to jump from one project to another before fully completing the necessary work. They couldn’t choose what to do. Taking on too many opportunities caused overload and a lack of focus.

They were also struggling with alignment. Everyone was working harder, yet there was always more to do–so people began caring only about their own departments’ success. They were no longer invested in the success of other teams or cross-functional projects.

The dashboards Colin had admired in his friend’s office inspired him. However, he needed his own custom dashboards which were tailored to his business needs. He also needed a repeatable process: Time to think about the business, time to plan execution, and time to execute the plan week after week. If he could adopt this process, he would begin to meet his commitments again and regain the board’s trust. Hostopia’s public valuation would also increase significantly. 

We happened to be meeting late in the year, right before annual planning season. It was time to get started!

A New Rhythm of Work 

We jumped into establishing a consistent rhythm of work, something we call the Think, Plan, Do Process.

First came Think. We established Hostopia’s 3-5 Year Strategic Plan, which included Winning Moves–those big growth ideas that can double your business. 

Then came Plan. We translated those Winning Moves to Annual Priorities that could be executed in the coming year. We then broke those Annual Priorities down into an execution-ready Quarter Plan for the upcoming quarter. During the planning process, we brought in Colin’s leaders to discuss, debate, and decide on the right priorities. Since they had the opportunity to be involved in building the plan, they were ready to commit to it when the session ended. Next, those leaders cascaded the company-level plans down to their teams to ensure alignment. They talked through the company priorities and where their departmental priorities fit into the big picture. This reduced siloed thinking.

Finally, it was time to DO! Once the plans were set, Hostopia began a cadence of regular weekly adjustment meetings. Using those Red-Yellow-Green dashboards, they honed in on problem areas and figured out how to get struggling goals back on track to success.

And then…we began this cycle all over again! Quarter after quarter, the company strategy was reviewed and quarterly plans were set. Week after week, the team honed in on problem areas–Reds and Yellows–to make key adjustments. And none of this work would have had the same impact if we hadn’t started with a great Annual Plan. Colin adopted the Think, Plan, Do process with a passion. He said, “Every quarter, we dedicate 2 days to THINK and PLAN, and the other 88 days to DO!”

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From Struggle to Success

Adopting this new rhythm of work transformed Hostopia in three key ways:

  • They went from having too many priorities to focusing on just a few. Teams knew where to allocate their energy, and they no longer had to stop one project in order to start another. 
  • Their silos were eliminated when teams aligned with one another and with company priorities during planning. This reduced confusion and mistakes and sped up their execution. 
  • They stopped being surprised by deadlines and instead became accountable to advancing their goals every week of the quarter. This helped them achieve their goals more consistently, which made them much less concerned about the consequences of failure. 

A few years after we had begun working together, Hostopia was sold for 3X their public stock price. This was a tremendous accomplishment for Colin and his team!

A Three-Pronged System

Colin’s breakthroughs were achieved thanks to a combination of methodology, software, and coaching. The Rhythm methodology gave Hostopia a framework (Think, Plan, Do), a common language, and best practices for high performance. Our software helped them stay accountable to perform by allowing them to visualize their goals and prompting them to color-status and comment week after week. Coaching allowed them to recognize and repair the gaps they were facing in focus, clarity, and alignment. 

When things get really busy, we’re tempted not to think–just do, do, and do. But like Colin, we all must learn to make a decision: Stop the cycle of pain. Spend the time you need to think strategically and make the right choices. We often need to slow down in order to speed up again! And once you get into a consistent Think, Plan, Do rhythm, no matter what is happening in your day-to-day, you will have time set aside each quarter and each annual planning season to think about the business and identify your key priorities. 

I am grateful to have worked with Colin through multiple successful companies, using our proven process to help him achieve success. Both Hostopia and more recently Club Domains were sold at a premium. 

If you are finding that your old ways of working don’t hold up at your current stage of growth, it’s time for a new framework and a new rhythm of operation. Invite us to join you on your journey just as Colin invited us to join him on his.

Begin Next Year's Annual Planning With These Resources

Achieve Annual Planning Success with Proven Think Plan Do® Framework

20 Ways to Achieve Your 2024 Annual Plan

Team Planning: How to do Team Planning for Team Focus & Alignment

AI Goal Setting: Harness the Power of SMART AI-Goal Software Coach in 2024

Annual Planning: Does Your Plan Include Winning Moves?


Patrick Thean


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images