Driving Value from Planning Days

Written by: Alan Rodway

What value do you get from your planning days? We need to make the most of them, to create significant and positive improvements for the future.

Here are some ‘musts’ to run high value Planning days:

First, planning days should actually be held .. rather than making excuses such as don’t know how, not big enough, don’t have time, too costly. . Planning … brainstorming, discussion, debate, challenging each other, decisions, plotting actions, creating accountability … is too important to make those excuses. Every business must hold planning days, preferable twice per year.

There are four parts to the success of a planning day:

1) Preparation prior to the day.

2) The day Itself.

3) Implementation of Actions / Decisions (Follow Through).

4) Measurement of Outcomes.

Most businesses get the the second one right …. they are good when they are at the day … contributions are good from most people, the social side of things works, team bonding occurs pretty much naturally, people feel good about being able to discuss the business issues, etc. But just getting it right when you’re there isn’t enough … the test is not whether the day seems to go well or feels ‘good’ at the time. The true test is what changes occur in the business as a direct result of the day itself. And that’s measurable, if you care to make it measurable. The four elements rank in this order of importance: 1) Measurement of Outcomes. 2) Implementation of Actions / Decisions. 3) Preparation prior to the day. 4) The day itself. Now that probably seems strange but it isn’t. We hold planning days to improve future outcomes, so that must rank first. Working back from those forces most other things into place.

The preparation for the day has to commence at least two months prior to the event, to allow adequate time as well as to create the buy in of the participants in the lead up (rather than just creating a day that people turn up to).

The measurable outcomes expected from the day must be agreed first and at the outset, by a key group of people from inside the business (this group may or may not be the whole group who will attend the day). The measurements should occur at 3, 6, 9 and 12 month intervals.

The agenda should be drafted by say two people at the outset and opened up to the input of everyone involved in the day, before agreeing the final coverage.

The day’s attendees should include everyone in small businesses (say upto 12 people), even if they don’t attend the whole day, and by the key group of people if the business is larger.

The format of each session must apply two things: variation between sessions and appropriateness to the content. For example, a day that has everyone sitting in the one room, with a presenter / facilitator out the front, for every session, will wear thin … and that format is not effective for all forms of content. Breakout groups, role playing, brainstorming, speed ‘dating’, interactive exercises, brain teasers, etc. …. a selection of these is most likely to be best and generate high attention / interest levels.

The Actions / Decisions of the day must be noted, during the sessions, and agreed upon at the end of each session, so someone (who knows how to do it) must be present to do so.

With respect to concentration and energy levels during the day, the following are all important: Programmed and relatively frequent breaks between sessions; the type of food provided (high fat, stodgy food, provided in copious quantities will do nothing for concentration and energy levels) … fruits, etc. in moderate quantities should be the order of the day; fresh air during breaks; appropriate air conditioning and lighting; rooms with views of the outdoors work best, so people feel a bit more ‘alive’.

Every day should be externally facilitated and that person must have significant input to all facets of the day. Even if people inside the business have the skills and knowledge to put a good day together, they still shouldn’t … objectivity, independence and neutrality is important to all facets of a successful day.

Let’s go back to the Preparation, Implementation and Measurement of Outcomes . The preparation will require several meetings, involving a range of people. Some checking of thinking with the wider group should be done along the way, rather than just the drivers of the preparation creating the day … or there may not be adequate buy in at the start. At the end of the day, the full List of Actions / Decisions must be read out, displayed and agreed to by everyone there … and committed to at the highest level … and this list should not be too many … no more than say ten on the list. Someone with authority should then be given responsibility for allocating names and dates to each of these, within one week of the end of the day. Then, regular, sharp meetings should be held (say monthly) to check the implementation and adapt where necessary. The Measurement of Outcomes is obviously part of each of those monthly meetings, but more formally every 3 months

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