Why end-of-year planning stinks & What to do about it

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Let’s face it, most end-of-year strategic planning stinks. The process is clunky, avoided or postponed until the last moment, dreaded by those who have to dredge up the numbers, and worst of all, by early in the first quarter of the next year, the outputs from all that work rarely bears any relationship to the key issues faced by the organization.
The aspect of much year-end planning that dooms it to swift irrelevance is that it is relentlessly tactical, concentrating on the detail of numbers and budgets, and is not sufficiently strategic, failing to focus on the real threats and opportunities faced by the organization. Consequently even a small shift in the strategic environment results in a high degree of irrelevancy in the underlying numbers.
A long time ago and in a different world I was a CPA (technically the British equivalent), so I’m not likely to suggest that you forgo the tactical, ‘numbers and budgets-based’ aspect of your year-end planning; but what I do suggest is that you redeem the end-of-year planning process: embrace it, welcome it – make it your friend, and turn it into an incredibly useful tool that will reward you through all of next year. After all, apart from the time set aside for year-end planning, when else will you get the opportunity to think strategically without being under constant pressure to manage tactically, on an hour-by hour, moment-by-moment basis?
The key to redeeming the end-of-year planning process is in adding a solid base of strategic thinking as the precursor to, and foundation of, your tactical planning.
Think about (your organization’s) Predictable Success: how will you attain it next year, how will you maintain it and improve it? Instead of laboriously podding through spreadsheets that may or may not be relevant to next year’s trading environment, start by using the year-end planning cycle as an ‘approved’ haven for genuine, effective strategic thinking.
There’s no secret to strategic planning – it’s not rocket science, despite what management gurus would have us believe. There are just two parts to good quality strategic planning:
1. Asking the right questions, and
2. Getting (or giving) the best answers.
I can’t help you with 2. (well, I can, but it will be need to be here, rather than here…), but I can certainly help with 1.
Here are my top 10 Strategic Year-end Questions I use to jump-start strategic thinking in the organizations I work with:
1. If you fired yourself today, and came back as a new boss tomorrow, what would you do? (*1)
2. If the ‘perfect’ competitor opened up across the street from you tomorrow, what would they be like? (*2)
3. What is the one thing your organization was worst at this year? What single thing most needs to happen to fix it?
4. What is the one thing your organization did best this year? What do you need to do to turn that success into a repeatable process?
5. Which individual was most responsible for standing in the way of your organization’s success this year? What are you going to do about it?
6. Which department, division, team or function was most responsible for standing in the way of your organization’s success this year? What are you going to do about it?
7. Which individual was most responsible for your organization’s success this year? What are you going to do about it?
8. Which department, division, team or function was most responsible for your organization’s success this year? What are you going to do about it?
9. What is the single metric or measurement you least liked hearing about this year? What will you do to prevent the same thing happening next year?
10. What is the single metric you will measure your success by (not how anyone else will measure your success – how you will measure your own success). What are you doing about it?
 

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Notes:

1. See Hymowitz, Carol. 2006. Fire Yourself — Then Come Back and Act Like a New Boss Would. Wall Street Journal. October 9, 2006.
2. See Seth Godin: ‘Small is the New Big’, Portfolio Publications, 2006.