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What Should CEOs Focus on During Quarterly Planning Sessions?

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Published July 06, 2014

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Picture of Patrick Thean

Patrick Thean
our Rhythm ninja

The quarterly planning session is a very expensive session. You've got your executive team out of the field for one to two days working together in a conference room. Your cost is the salaries of everyone in the room plus the opportunity cost of taking them out of the field. So now you are wondering… why the heck should I do this very expensive quarterly planning session? Yet these two days spent planning your quarter can set your team up for a winning quarter. And when you put four winning quarters together, you've achieved a winning year. And when you string these years together, you get to your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in a joyful way. Your quarterly planning session is very important. Every quarter is made up of thirteen weeks. In my book, Rhythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth, I share how to achieve your goals with the discipline of planning each quarter like a 13-Week Race. In this blog, I’ll share 3 tips to help you maximize your time and 2 pitfalls to avoid so that you can plan an awesome 13-Week Race.

R2Icon_Quarterly Planning

Here are 3 tips to maximize the return on your Quarterly Planning session:

Tip #1: Be curious.

As CEOs, it feels so natural to come in and give direction. Here are the top objectives, and here’s how we should go after them. But as your company gets larger and your employees grow past fifty, it would be better to shift to “listen and lead” instead of “command and control.”

Lots of CEOs have asked me how to improve their listening skills. Every leadership book now tells us that the ability to listen is critical to becoming a great leader. But few tell us how to improve our listening skills. Here’s the tip. Instead of focusing on listening better, try to come to the meeting curious. Be curious about what your team has to share. Be curious about what you might learn from your leadership team. Be excited to learn. Be curious and you will automatically turn on your listening ears.

Tip #2: Participate 100%.

Here are five rules to help your team participate fully.

1.  Stay in the room. Shut off your email and text messaging. Keep your attention and brain in the room together with your body.

2.  Be fully engaged. If you get bored, say something! Don’t allow conversations to slip into back and forth debates between two team members while the rest of the team remain on the sidelines.

3.  Share your thoughts completely. Don’t hold back. Make sure that your point is well understood.

4.  Seek first to understand. Dr. Stephen Covey said it best. Be curious to fully understand what a team member is saying. If you are thinking about what you want to say in return, there is a good chance you may miss a nuance and not understand what your team member is trying to communicate. Instead, listen fully. Listen to the words; watch the body language; notice the fluctuation of tone. Seek to fully understand the message being communicated.

5.  Encourage debate. Don’t react negatively when someone has a different opinion. If everyone in the room has the same opinion, then we are all potential cost saving opportunities.

Tip #3: CEOs should participate instead of facilitate.

It is almost impossible to participate and facilitate your own planning session at the same time. As the CEO, your team is already used to deferring to your opinions. Couple the power of being the CEO with the power of being the facilitator, and your opportunity to listen, learn and get the best ideas from your team falls dramatically. Instead, pass the facilitation duties to someone else and immerse yourself in the meeting. Designate a facilitator or hire a great facilitator to bring out the best in your team with you. Your ideas and contribution to the discussions will provide a much greater return compared to your facilitating the meeting.

Here are 2 Pitfalls to avoid:

Pitfall #1: Don’t take those rabbit trails.

Begin every discussion by setting a clear objective for the discussion. One technique is to complete the sentence “We will be successful if….” Then create a parking lot. When a rabbit trail suddenly presents itself, put it in the parking lot, and remind everyone of the “Successful if” statement.

Pitfall #2: Don’t be overly efficient.

Efficiency is a great thing when applied to process. When working with people, focus on being effective instead of being efficient. Slowing down to make sure everyone understands the right priorities and their part in executing on them is critical to the team being confident in running the 13-Week Race. Focus more on helping the team understand, digest and come up with execution milestones that they can hit along the way. These milestones will let you know if the team is on track or if they need help during the quarter. Slow down, take the time to discuss milestones and help every team member to see their execution path. If they see it, they can do it and get the results that we all want for the quarter.


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