I’ve been getting a number of inquiries lately about our strategic planning process. Yes, even as a startup company we engage in strategic planning on a regular basis. We believe we needed to start out on the right foot, or it would be challenging later to incorporate strategic planning into our routine. So here is a short explanation of how we go about setting the vision for our company, Creative Age Leadership.
Have a Purpose
The foundation to any strategic plan, or any company for that matter, is to understand your purpose. Why are we doing this in the first place? Your purpose can be written out just like that, “Our purpose is …,” or you can use your vision and mission to make up your purpose. At Creative Age Leadership we have a vision of a world where going to work doesn’t suck and where the workplace is 100% inclusive. Our mission is to develop leaders that are curious, connected and confident, so they can navigate the special needs of the workforce. We post this in our office, and we review our vision and mission at every strategic planning meeting to make sure it still resonates and that we’re on track.
Know Your Values
At Creative Age Leadership our values are:
- Celebrate the differences
- Curiosity – ask questions in everything we do
- Self-expression – expand our thinking and being
- Resourcefulness – be resourceful and be a resource
- Innovation – we love new ways to solve problems (especially technology)
- Connection – be present
These values are important to us. We use them to evaluate opportunities and to determine who we work with and who we want as partners. As we grow we will use our values to determine who is a fit for our team and who is not. We evaluate our performance based on these values. As part of the strategic planning process we review our values and point to instances where one of our team members demonstrated one or more of them – sort of a recognition event.
Know Your Numbers
Once we’ve gone over why we’re here in first place (which only takes a few minutes each time we meet for strategic planning) we take a look at the numbers. In monthly and weekly strategic planning sessions we pretty much stick to reviewing the plan and making adjustments. We reserve the larger scale planning efforts for the quarterly and annual meetings. It’s with the numbers we get to see how we’re doing and where we need to make changes. Our tracking mostly consists of looking at the balance sheet and income statements for our company and a few other specialized metrics we use in our particular business. We remove the emotion (both up and down) by managing the numbers and not our people. We take a stand that we don’t manage people – we communicate with them. We manage the numbers and, therefore, the results.
And Then Get Off the Computer
Our quarterly and annual strategic planning meetings are where we lean more heavily in the direction of planning. We use paper and pen instead of a spreadsheet for this part of the process. At our annual strategic planning meeting in December we set our 18-month goal first. We use this goal to “back into” our 12-month plan. We’ve found it easier to set a goal out beyond the planning horizon of our fiscal year and use this goal to determine where we need to be in twelve months. It could be a mindset thing, but it’s how we do it. Our 18-month goal is expressed in terms of revenue run rate or revenue “booked and banked” or even a combination of the two as one, big goal. From that singular, main goal we next determine our critical success factors. What are the three or four main things we need to be focused on during the year to make our plan succeed? Is it more speaking opportunities? Is it growing the team? We write them down and begin the process of more granular planning. Having broad factors is one thing, but there needs to be tangible projects that can be put into action immediately for the plan to work.
Next we put together our 4-month plan. We revise and develop a new 4-month plan every quarter. Yes, you read that correctly. We revise and create a new 4-month plan every three months. Why? Once again, we simply find it easier to stretch out one month in time and “back into” what we need to be doing specifically for the next three months. Heck, we might even accomplish four months worth of stuff in three if we know what it is! We get much more specific and task-oriented in the 4-month plans.
And we do all of this work on whiteboards and worksheets. Since we use Quickbooks Online and Infusionsoft to run our business, we do not want or need to create spreadsheets for strategic planning. As an aside we strive to be 100% in the cloud, so we can access our data anywhere. The numbers are tracked rigorously in those two applications, and we compare our results against our handwritten strategic plan.
Timing is Everything
How long does all this take? Not very long at all. For strategic planning, we spend two days every year, one day every quarter, one hour every month and fifteen to thirty minutes every week creating, reviewing and tracking.
Remember, manage the results – communicate with the people.
I’d love to hear your feedback – what do you do to set the pace for your company?