Quarterly Planning Sessions
Are you also dreading your next quarterly planning session?
You know your executive team has to have one. But how effective do you really find these quarterly planning sessions? Well, most executives would say they are not very effective.
First of all, executives complain about inadequate preparation. Too much time is spent on preparing presentations and then nobody else has read them. Let alone that the quality of the other presentations is also really bad. So we don’t really get to the information we need.
Second, there is no real discussion. It is a one-by-one game or the plan is already set in motion and people don’t really get to discuss it.
Often the outcome is unclear, so: “we’ve discussed everything but what are we changing in practice? What are our new priorities?”
And then tied to that, very often people also do not follow up on the new conclusions of the workshops. So we may have aligned a team around some new action but have they actually agreed what they’re going to do? How they’re going to do it? And who is going to follow up on making sure it actually happens?
What is the root cause why these quarterly planning sessions are often felt to be so ineffective? I think it’s the implicit assumption, that these are quarterly business reviews. Where we basically look at each of the functions. What they’ve accomplished and what they’re going to do in the next quarter.
To me this is a misunderstanding. By the time a company becomes an effective scaleup, usually the value created within the functions is already pretty good, what matters is the value created across functions. In other words - how people cooperate. You’re not going to get that out of a line up where everyone is just waiting for the next department to finish before they can do their presentation.
It’s so ineffective that people dread these planning sessions, there’s only one thing that’s worse than attending them: not being invited at all. Because, ‘oh my god, is that a bump on your status?’
Let’s look back at what a Quarterly Planning Session is actually supposed to do. It’s supposed to re-energize people. After 70, 80, 90 days, humans tend to lose faith in things we’ve been working on for a long time and we need this boost of new energy. In order to do that we need to re-align with the people in our teams. Especially the executive team, so that we know the whole company is behind us. And in order to do that we also often need to rebuild trust. Maybe some conflict has happened or some decision hasn’t quite gone in the way that we wanted. And we need to rebuild trust that we’re actually working with the right people that have our backs.
Now, I have found that a more effective quarterly planning session actually challenges some of these assumptions that people have. Here are some tips that I find make a quarterly planning session much more effective, even if they’re a little bit unconventional.
Ditch the preparation
First of all, ditch the preparation, A bit radical maybe. But do not let people come in with big slide decks about all they’ve accomplished. Who cares? What we care about is common thinking. So I always say, first put on the hat of the CEO and not your hat of the head of a function. Then start thinking about the company at large.
Review team results
In line with that, we will start the workshop with reviewing the team results and team results I mean results of the company at large. So what have we accomplished as a company at large?
Have we increased our market share?
Have we increased our valuation?
Have our customers been more happy than other people’s customers?
How are we doing against the competition?
All these overall metrics and overall results that are far more important than what marketing has done, what sales has done, what engineering has done and all these fragmented results.
Look at the road ahead
Very quickly, in the workshop or maybe a quarter or a third down the line we already want to flip the switch and stop looking behind and start looking ahead because it’s really about making plans for the immediate future.
In order to do that we often have to start dealing with some conflicts that are going on. People may not actually share the same vision of the future or they may have different view on how to get there.
Encourage real debate
And so I always encourage real debate. Actually, I even encourage some conflict to come out and have it be solved in the group, so that people are aware what’s going on and that we can find a new catalyst, a new dilemma resolution that will help people move forward together.
Agree on top priorities
We will have had a lot of ideas about what plans could be worked on and what new projects could be but we also have to align on a triage of just five top priorities. And I say five because Warren Buffett says so. He says, you cannot do more than five priorities, because otherwise you’re not going to deliver them with excellence.
Share a clear plan
And finally, have a framework in place even before the workshop so that you know what you’re working towards, a plan that can be filled out and that you know will be communicated afterwards to the team. I like the Gazelle’s One-Page Strategic Plan that’s typically the tool I work with but there are several available just make sure that before the workshop you already know what’s the output going to look like and now let’s just focus on the content to fill that plan out.
If you do that, you’re going to find your quarterly business planning session is going to be much more effective, it will rebuild trust, it will realign the team and it will re-energize your team for a quarter to come.
So if you are ready for the next quarter you can just jump in with your team.