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Posted: January 07, 2011

Top seven tips for a great planning retreat

Here's how to get your company ready for the challenge of the new year

Larry Turner

Is your company ready for the challenge of the new year? Many of the business owners I meet with are coming off a very difficult year and the prospect of another year of poor results is unacceptable. They are looking to do things differently and drive results that will help them break away from their competitors.

These companies are taking the opportunity to look at their business differently through an off-site meeting with the management team to critically review where they have come from and where they are going. These meetings are a great way to facilitate critical reflection and develop the plans to more your organization forward -- if managed correctly. Here are seven areas to get you started:

Venue
Get away from the office, and turn off all phones during the meeting. The facility should be quiet and provide an atmosphere that allows your team to proactively participate in the planning. While an out of town location is always nice, it can be a local facility that provides a meeting room and audio/video support. A favorite of mine is the Denver Athletic Club, which has great meeting rooms and an outstanding catering/restaurant staff.

Start the with past
Look at last year and identify what worked and what didn't. Spend the first hour or two on the previous year: what did you and your management team learn? We also find that over the past 10 years, it has been increasingly difficult to celebrate the "wins" in the business. It seems one year ends, and the next thing you know, you are into the new year, paying taxes and starting all over again. This is a great opportunity to spend time on those things the organization did well and discuss how this will help you in the upcoming year. This section allows you to leave last year behind you and focus on the developing plan that will allow your team focus on the new year.

Review your strategy
Pull out the 5/10 year strategy from the bottom of your desk drawer and review relevance to the changes in your business and industry. In many cases, only small modifications will be required to this document. Refinement of this the overall direction and strategy allows your team to start thinking in terms of how to achieve them with this year's results as a foundation.

Planning
Go back to the notes / flip chart comments from "what didn't work" and in many cases you will find that the high level plan last year was good, but the execution was weak. Many management teams miss targets due to the inability to execute. Too many things get in the way on a day to day basis that keeps us from implementing those things that we know will help us hit our targets. We all tend to be great at the high level planning activity, but there are no tools to help our managers (or ourselves) monitor activity to assure we meet our goals. I ran a company for a business owner that summed it up pretty well "it is only the results that count".

Limit your priorities
Limit planning on 3-5 key priorities each function needs to manage in order for your company to reach its goal. Any more of than this and you risk none of your objectives being completed. There may be a number of action items to support each priority, but it is critical to keep the organization focused on only a few key priorities.

Develop an action list
Most planning sessions stop at the last step. The most critical part of your process is to identify those actions that need to be done on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. This provides you, your management team and supervisors a tool to track short term results to plan without waiting for the end of the month financial statements. Developing this list provides a short term tracking tool to assure the key activities are being accomplished. It also provides you and your leadership team a tool to review company activities on a quarterly basis against results, and allow you to refine the action items that need to be tracked and implemented.

Share your plan
Probably the most critical step is communicating your plan to all employees. After all, you will be relying on them for execution. Develop a short (less than 20 slides) presentation to share the direction for the year and explain how all the employees will contribute the success of the plan. Use regular all-company meetings to reinforce your direction, and company progress against the plan.

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Larry Turner is CEO of Roundhouse Advisors, Inc. and has over 25 years experience growing, starting up, repositioning, and revitalizing organizations.  Roundhouse Advisors is a consulting practice focused on helping businesses increase enterprise value by managing pain, growth and owner exits.  Larry is a consultant, public speaker, and the author of “Owner Exit Planning: Leave On Your Own Terms." For additional information visit www.RoundhouseAdvisors.com

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