Preparing for Tomorrow

It would be so nice not to have to work in July and August.

Unfortunately for many of us it is unavoidable if we want to collect a paycheque. Regardless, there is something to be said about the generally more civilized summer pace. Typically it seems there are fewer meetings, a more manageable level of emails and, most importantly, time to think and reflect.

Our team did just that this past week, spending two days focused on our annual strategic planning session. Wanting to ensure a relaxed environment most of the meeting time was spent at my house on the back patio. While it was fun, it was also hard work as the conversations that resulted were those necessary for effective planning. And, as we all know, everything worthwhile begins with a conversation.

We worked to clarify both where we are now and where we want to go over the next year. Once we did that, most of the time was spent focused on addressing that gap in between where we are now and where we want to go and the specific steps we need to take to get there. 

While there are some who might question taking two full days to plan, I can’t imagine how others manage to be productive without it. Mostly what you seem to hear from people these days is that they don’t have time to plan, plans are out of date before they’re finished, or plans just gather dust sitting on a shelf. Our learning is that the real benefit of strategic planning is the process itself rather than the final plan.

The process of sitting down together as a team to have meaningful and thoughtful conversations and reflections is what is most important. The conversations allowed us to clarify, check assumptions, brainstorm, and harness the collective synergy of the group. The strategic planning process provided a series of “aha!” moments that will contribute to keeping us doing the right things and being innovative while we do it.

Planning as a team also provides an opportunity for cross pollination among the team members. One of our team members who generally has very little to do with communication strategies, came up with an absolutely brilliant idea for how our annual report can be presented in a compelling and user-friendly way. Another collective conversation made us rethink a decision that we all thought was carved in stone.  Others brought ideas forward that had been put on the back burner. For example, our idea to videotape interviews with the legacy leaders from our field was brought to the forefront to ensure we capture their wisdom. Of course not all the ideas were good ones but we’ve learned the best way to get good ideas is to make sure we have a lot of them. Then we just ignore the bad ones.

The planning process also meant we were able to establish common direction and determine our priorities. One of the staff emailed me the next day to say she was excited about everything and super pumped for the future. It also helped us develop some important policies and be clearer about financial requirements.  Most importantly, I think we’re all more confident, enthusiastic, and committed to implementing growth.

While there are those among us who resist spending time planning, it is time well spent even though we know planning itself won’t be enough to guarantee our success. We also know we’ll be doing some improvising over the next year as new ideas and opportunities emerge. However, we now have a plan that will give us a basis for making decisions about those deviations. 

Additionally the focus on planning was a reminder for all of us of its value in terms of staying ahead. Planning is really about preparing ourselves for tomorrow and as such is essential for ourselves, our families, organizations and businesses, and the communities where we live.




Posted on 07-26-10

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