If you simply can’t imagine taking a whole day offsite with your leadership team, don’t bother with this post. Instead, read Too busy to plan? Otherwise, read on!
There are 5 essential elements to an effective quarterly planning offsite.
- Getting offsite. At the risk of delving into the obvious, habits are powerful. Our brain relates to our day and our work in a certain way, the same way every day we’re at work. When we take the team offsite, we automatically tip off the brain that this is no ordinary day. Different kinds of thinking and interaction are thus possible.
Bonus tip: If you find a spot you love, keep going back there. The brain will develop a new habit for thinking and interacting while doing quarterly planning. Take advantage of this.
- Looking back and the previous quarter. If you skip this step, no matter the results of the quarter, you won’t learn anything from it. Learning from what we’ve just done is incredibly powerful, both in success and failure. In fact, some would say there is no such thing as failure, just learning another way that doesn’t work. Don’t neglect this look back.
Bonus tip: Look for the bright spots. If sales were down, look for the one product or geographic area where they weren’t down. What can we learn from them? If employee turnover was high, look for the departments or locations where it was low. What can we learn from them? Celebrate victories early in the day.
- Strategic talk time. Pick a topic that never seems to get its due in the normal course of business. This could be something from your one-page strategic plan (core values, core purpose, BHAG, core customer, brand promise, etc) or something else that need collective intelligence. Examples: “There’s a company we might be able to buy. Should we take next steps?” “A new partnership opportunity has come up. What are the benefits and possible harms from going this direction?
Bonus tip: Have people prepare in advance. Assign them to a point of view and have them come prepared to debate that side. Midway through the debate, have participants switch side. The goal is not consensus, but making sure all arguments are presented well. A decision may then be obvious, or the CEO may have to make the decision (then or later) herself, but either way, with good data and debate, a much better decisions is possible.
- Learning together. This can take many forms, depending on your culture and learning styles. You could pick a book and have everyone read it. At the offsite, discuss applicability to your company. You could have one person read a book and do a presentation on it, and lead a discussion. You could bring in an audio book summary like cliff notes, but quicker and then discuss the main ideas for applicability. You could bring in video content, such as from the Gazelles Growth Institute. Watch it together and then discuss. If you need suggestions for learning content, contact me.
- New 90 day plan. Keeping in mind your one-year priorities, each person should write their own answer to the question, “What should our top priority be for the next 90 days?” Then, “If we can’t have that one, what would I argue should be our top priority.” Even though you’ll likely choose 3-5 priorities, keep the discussion focused on the #1 and you’ll have more passion and more focus on what’s really most important. It’s likely that my 3, 4 and 5 priorities are not actually in the company’s top 5, so stay focused on #1. Go around the table a couple of times, everyone sharing one idea each time. Have them filter their remaining items through whatever’s on the board already. Only share those that are a true potential #1. There are many ways to decide on actual priorities from this big list. Here are the one I prefer and one I’m looking forward to trying:
- Dot Voting. Give everyone 3-4 colored stickers or simply use markers and ask people to distribute their dots on the items they believe are most important for the company. They can put all dots on one item, if that one is far and away a priority. Dot voting is not a way to decide, but it does guide the next conversation. The items with the most dots are where you should start. Work your way down the list by number of dots until you reach 3-5 priorities. Then ask people if there’s anything else on the board that deserves to displace one of these provisional top priorities. Have them make a case. Discuss.
- Priority Star. Once you’re down to your top 5, pick one at random and compare it to another one. Which one has to come first? If neither, which one is more important. Draw an arrow from first to second, from cause to effect or from most important to least important. Do this for every pair. Count the number of arrows pointing into each item. If one has a zero, that’s your top priority. The numbers then give you an ordered list. If you’ve used this method, I’d love to talk with you about it so I can learn more.
Once you have your priorities, assign a person to be accountable for each as well as a due date. They don’t all have to be due on the last day of the quarter.
Bonus tip: See Are Your Quarterly Priorities Hurting Morale?
- Bonus Element: Once you have your quarterly priorities, each person should draft their own personal (or departmental) priorities and metrics for the quarter. Each person should present their priorities to the team for ratification and approval. The team needs to ask themselves, Are these the right priorities for that area of the business? Is there anything missing? Is this realistic, or too much? Ask your questions and give your feedback to make that person’s priorities better. This exercise breaks down silos. The head of marketing can no longer say, “I don’t have anything to do with the sales plan, that’s Cindy’s area.” Everyone needs to be involved in creating these departmental plans because they’re for the company, not for the individual department.
See also: Purpose Podcast 009: Elements of Effective Quarterly Planning