Imagine it is January 1.

“A year from now, your company is having the biggest New Year’s party it has ever thrown. Your entire team, your friends, your family—everyone has gathered to celebrate this year, your company’s biggest year ever. You are celebrating because you achieved … what?” ask Mark Moses, Craig Coleman, Chris Larkins, and Don Schiavone in Making Big Happen: Applying The Make Big Happen System to Grow Big.

2023 will be here before we know it. As summer slips away, our thoughts naturally turn to the fall. Which is the best time to start thinking about and preparing to make 2023 the best year of our lives.  

“Because you’ve achieved… what?”  

“We ask this question to CEOs all the time, and they rarely come up with a clear, compelling answer,” the authors write.

How will we set priorities for the coming year? How will we engage the other leadership team members to ensure we (1) are all aligned around our goals and (2) are accountable for making them happen?

“There is one amazingly simple answer to all these questions: hold an annual planning session,” the authors write. It “is the most important meeting on your calendar outside of your family commitments. . . This is the biggie, and it is non-negotiable.”

This week we will explore the elements of a successful annual planning session. At the end of the process, how will we know if we were successful?  

First, specific and measurable outcomes. “All too often, we see examples of outcomes that are vague and impossible to measure or, worse, not unique to your business,” they write.

Second, what are the activities that will lead to the outcomes? These actions must also be specific and measurable.  

“The secret sauce to extraordinary growth is to identify the specific and measurable leading activities that are predictive of the outcome,” the authors note.

Success element #1: Specific and measurable outcomes. We aim to align our entire leadership team around “three to five BIG goals and company-wide initiatives that must get accomplished over the next twelve months,” they write.

Success element #2: We will be “clear on exactly how those BIG goals and initiatives will get accomplished, who is responsible, and what metrics you will monitor to ensure you are on track,” the authors state.

Otherwise, how will we know if we are winning?

There are three action items to prepare for our annual planning session. 

Pre-work Action Item #1: As CEO, the preparation begins with asking: What do I want? This is “crystal ball” time. What is the future I envision? What is my BIG goal? Where do I want to be at the end of the year? Where do we want to be at the end of the year?  

Now is the time to block off time to journal as well as talk with others. The goal? Crystal clear clarity on what success looks like at the end of the year. “There is no point in holding a planning session if [we] do not have a BIG goal worth planning for,” the authors write.

Pre-work Action Item #2: Assign the pre-meeting homework. Call a meeting to prepare our leadership team for the annual meeting. We will share our initial thoughts on the year ahead and where we see our company and the industry heading. We are not “telling” our team what to think. Instead, we are sharing our vision of the opportunities ahead.

At the end of this pre-meeting, distribute the following questions and create a process so everyone’s responses will be captured in a single document.  

Reflect on the past 12 months:

o What went right?

o What went wrong?

o What did we learn? 

Analyze: How did we do?

o On our annual goals compared to how we said we would do? 

o On the specific and measurable activities we were keeping score on that we said would lead us to the outcome we wanted? 

Anticipate. In the following year:

o What are our greatest opportunities?

o What are our greatest challenges? 

o What is the #1 goal we think we could achieve next year that would have the biggest impact on our company’s growth?

Pre-work Action Item #3: Hire a facilitator. The authors believe hiring a third-party facilitator is always a best practice. “If the CEO facilitates it, the other leaders might consciously or subconsciously feel compelled to agree, and it might limit the free-flowing of thoughts,” the authors write.

Sitting “elbow to elbow” with the other members of our leadership team sends a powerful message: “We’re all in this together. I am responsible for what is working and what is not working the same as you are. We can all do better, including me,” they note.

More tomorrow as we continue our exploration of the details of the annual planning session.


Reflection: Do I and my organization or team have a formal annual planning session? What actions and thinking can I do now to prepare?

Action: Get the annual planning session on the calendar. Start preparing now.

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