Richard Pierce Thomas

Leadership and Small Business Consultant

At this time of year is often the time for strategic planning, meetings, and annual business reviews, I thought it appropriate to share my 7-point framework for effective strategic planning for your business:             

1. Start with Why – Borrowing from the book of the same title by Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, allow for a deep dive discussion around why the business exists. This creates a foundation that serves to align the subsequent offsite activities around what is most important. For a primer on this, Simon’s TEDTalk discussion (technology, entertainment and design) of this subject can be found on YouTube. It is highly informative and likely to promote a productive discussion with the team. 

2. Define or Re-visit the Core Values – Articulating core values for the first time is an exercise that deserves the benefit of time to unpack what is important to the team and business. If it’s a first time for the Values and Why discussion, I suggest allocating a full day to steps 1 & 2. When defining the values, take time to articulate the behavioral anchors – specific illustrations of what the value looks like in action. This solves a common interpretation issue that arises in value definitions where my understanding of a value may be different than yours.

3. Executive/Management Team Role Review – Given the dynamic nature of business these days, roles and responsibilities are in continuous flux. An exercise I often guide leadership teams through is for each team member to answer the following questions for the rest of the group: 1) What is my current role in the business? 2) Are my skills and talents being fully utilized in my role? 3) If not, what are the skills and talents not being utilized? 4) Feedback – This is where the rest of the team will have the opportunity to give the individual feedback on what they’ve heard. There is always some hesitation to engage in this exercise, but the outcomes always prove beneficial in building trust, understanding and camaraderie.

4. 2013 Year in Review – Assess the concluding year answering the following questions: 1) What were our key accomplishments? 2) What were the big missed opportunities? 3) What would we do differently knowing what we know now?

5. 2014 Planning – Start the conversation with either a SWOT* exercise or a variation of it, the Porter’s Five Forces exercise (both team exercises can be found on the site Examine the business from these various perspectives and prioritize which items from the exercises are worthy of potential action. Combining them with the wish lists that each team member may bring, develop a master list of what the potential Strategic Initiatives may be for 2014. Explain, debate and then ultimately narrow the list to (3) initiatives for the year. Arguably, this is the most difficult aspect, as everything can seem to have the same priority. Using a multivote process allows each person to cast several votes they can use for either one, or several options. This can quickly reduce the list to the key few initiatives to be determined.

6. Plan for the Execution. As the saying goes, even a poor plan well executed is infinitely more valuable than a great plan that never is implemented. Effective execution begins with defining the following for each initiative: 1) What is the goal of the initiative? 2) What does “done” look like? 3) What resources will be needed to implement it? 4) When does it need to be completed? 5) Who will facilitate the execution? 6) Determine the frequency of status meetings. Quarterly meetings are the most common, though with complex initiatives a more frequent check-in may be advisable.

7. Hire Facilitation – As a leader in the business, it is difficult to play both participant and facilitator for the meeting. Invest in good facilitation to ensure the process and results are receiving your full attention.

The mistake often made by business owners, besides not planning at all, is to expect that a once-yearly planning meeting is sufficient. As Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, planning is priceless.” Focus on making progress throughout the year and you will be certain to have much to celebrate in next year’s business review.

Rick Thomas is a Principal and Director of Human Capital at Pilot Wealth Management, a registered investment advisor in Oregon state. Leading their focus on the human component of building wealth, he consults and speaks to organizations across the country, focusing on individual and organizational achievement.

* SWOT = Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,Threats