Last month I discussed the benefits of reflecting on your values, purpose and desired legacy in order to distill what has meaning for you and your organization. That's the perfect foundation for now turning your attention to the year ahead. The venerable Peter Drucker said it admirably: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” In business, the best way to create your future is to plan.

Planning means setting our intentions, committing ourselves, making choices, and taking a stand. In effect, it's taking responsibility for influencing what we can in this ever-changing world of business. Spending quality time with your team to plan for the coming year is one of the best investments you can make.

An important proviso: plan the planning. To do it well requires thought and preparation, scheduling and arrangements. As you consider what your planning process requires, you may determine that getting professional help to plan and facilitate your meetings is a smart investment.

After you have identified the scope of topics you need to address, create a meeting agenda for the planning session. Gather your key people together.  Dedicate enough time to do the issues justice. Then talk through these important subjects and get consensus on the decisions. Be sure to end your sessions with action plans, so everyone knows what's expected and what their part will be in making it happen.

Planning is not about trying to predict or control the future — neither is possible. Planning is about mental and physical preparation, making decisions about priorities, and allocating resources accordingly. There are few companies, and come to think of it, none that I know of personally, that have the resources to do everything they would like to do. Ergo, the need for making tough decisions. When we plan, we necessarily make choices and commitments, yet we are always free to make new decisions as new information comes along. In the meantime, we have given ourselves a course to follow. A nautical-themed adage applies nicely: “You can't control the wind, but you can adjust the sails.”

If you have a three to five year strategic plan for your company, then your annual plan will necessarily need to dovetail with your long-term goals. If you do not have a long-term plan, then by all means, start with a one-year plan. Once people see the benefits of planning, they usually want to extend their planning horizon.

Another aspect to consider is how to communicate the planning process and outcomes throughout the organization. The more people understand and have some involvement with the planning, the more effectively and enthusiastically they will engage in the implementation of those plans. It's wise to remember that top management doesn't execute strategies — employees do. The timing and methods for engaging others in the planning process depend on many variables, but be sure to give consideration to when and how to involve as many people as possible throughout the organization.

Also, think ahead and make arrangements in advance for documenting the planning process and the outcomes. You will want to capture all the good information and ideas that emerge in the discussions, and certainly you will want to record the decisions and action plans in detail. These become your management team's "game plan" for the year. Creating a written document (and/or electronic if you prefer) symbolizes your commitment and anchors your intentions. The clarity that writing requires is another opportunity to minimize any lingering ambiguities.

When your plan is complete, publish it, share it, and make sure anyone and everyone who will be involved in its implementation reads and understands it. Also, consider the variety of methods available for communication beyond the usual narrative format. Graphics, strategy maps, and other visual thinking methods can be a wonderful complement to the customary written report. Keep your plan accessible and refer to it often. Give it a prominent role in guiding your ongoing operations and day-to-day management.

With good solid follow-through, you will have a ready document next year for comparing what actually happened with what you hoped would happen. That will give you a great springboard for planning for the following year, and onwards from there as you guide your company toward the continual improvement that makes business such a captivating and challenging pursuit.


Mary Luttrell is a business strategy advisor who works with companies moving to the next level of growth and success. Known for her ability to create inspired yet practical plans of action, she helps her clients turn challenges into opportunities and resolve complicated problems and dilemmas. Ms. Luttrell specializes in strategic planning, marketing, performance management, and leadership, and has over 28 years of consulting experience. Her firm was named one of the 100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America by industry analyst James Kennedy, and she recently was  awarded the prestigious ISO-accredited Certified Management Consultant designation. To receive a complimentary copy of her whitepaper, The Four Cornerstones of Business Success, or to subscribe to her weekly leadership briefs, visit her website www.maryluttrell.com.