It’s that time of year again. Time to grab your entire team and plan for the upcoming year. Wait, you mean, you don’t map out a formal plan for each year?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Annual planning, or formal planning of any sort is something small business owners know they should do but have a hard time getting around to. It can be the most important thing you do.
Stepping back from the day-to-day crush of work and taking a long, hard look at your business is the only way to get much-needed clarity of your vision, regain your focus and narrow your thinking to a few select high priority action items for the year to come.
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You can do this sort of planning any time of year, but the turn of the calendar is a great time to reboot. This is such an important idea that you must set aside an entire day for this process and think seriously about moving off-site to a location that will free people up to be more creative and detach from their normal roles.
Also, you might consider bringing in a facilitator, someone that knows your business well enough to keep things moving, but not so well as to place barriers. The problem with making this a CEO-run exercise is that you may unknowingly constrict brainstorming and, in the role of facilitator, fail to apply your own insights.
If you’re the owner of the business you will likely have some definite ideas about the strategic direction of the organization, but this is a group, and in some organizations, all hands exercise.
Your planning day isn’t about creating a giant list of ideas and to-dos, it’s actually about figuring out how to do less and, by doing so, do those few key things extremely well.
The end product of your planning day is alignment and focus that is documented in the following five ways.
1. BAI – At the top of the list is what I call your one big audacious idea. This is the one thing that is far out there, but that possesses a gravitational pull that keeps you and your entire team motivated. It’s the big thing you know you want your business to become, even if you’re not really sure today how you’ll get there.
I believe you must always take stock of this idea and make sure it’s alive and, in some cases, actually big enough to alter your behavior. Without this pull, the other rest of your planning can turn into busy work.
2. Priorities – Each year you should define your top 3-4 priorities. Keep this list small or your focus will become diluted. Most businesses can’t accomplish more than this number and trying to do so means nothing really gets accomplished. This is also a great way to identify the highest payoff work when it comes down to utilizing scarce resources like the owner’s time.
When you pare your list to only the top priorities, you have a filter for making determinations about what projects or great new ideas should actually receive consideration going forward. If they don’t support one of your annual priorities, they go on the back burner for later consideration. This is a great way to keep everyone moving in the same direction, including sometimes a self-sabotaging owner!
3. Goals – Everyone is familiar with the idea of using goals, but few businesses establish goals as a key way to track and measure progress, particularly as it relates to the stated major priorities for the year.
After you agree upon the 3-4 priority objectives, you should establish goals that allow you to track your progress in ways that help you understand what’s working and what’s not.
4. Projects – Meeting the goals in each of your priority areas will probably involve any number of projects. For example, if one of your primary objectives for the year is to increase revenue by X percent, you’ll probably need to identify a series of projects that are geared towards reaching that objective. This might include a new product launch or aggressive lead generation campaign.
You should attempt to identify only a handful of ongoing projects that support your main objectives on a quarter-by-quarter basis. These projects should have owners and supporters and progress should be tracked and reported on a weekly basis.
5. Tasks – The smallest unit of work is the task. Even so, tasks should be associated with projects, which in turn support the primary objectives.
Now, tasks often pop up in the form of the daily to do list. Where people fail in their day–to-day productivity is that many don’t use to do lists and those that do employ them don’t always have the end in mind when they plan.
Unless you plan with the end in mind or with a focus on the big audacious idea, you’ll constantly fall victim to the swirl of what seems important at the time.
When you build your strategic focus based on only a core number of priorities you can plan your days, weeks and months with your priorities and supporting projects firmly rooted in every decision you make hour by precious hour.
So you see, effective planning is mostly about what to leave out!
Using strategic planning helps you figure out how to do less and accomplish more next year and every year to come. Interested in more small business tips on managing your time? This white paper is a great read for any entrepreneur!
Until next time…
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.