Seeing 2020—A New Protocol for Strategic Planning

By: Julie Kirchner

As the last quarter of 2019 approaches, business teams the world over will turn to planning for the next full year.

We will dig out or print multiple copies of our calendar, annual strategic business plan, marketing plan, and budget. We will sit around big conference tables (physically, or virtually and metaphorically) with on-demand coffee and individually wrapped chocolates, surrounded by giant post-it papers on the wall and rainbows of colored markers.

Sorry to interrupt all that inspiration you were feeling just now. Umm…call me crazy, but I’m fairly certain this is not the magic fluff that wildly successful companies are made of. (Unless you’re in the business of giant post-its or colored markers, of course.)

It’s time we cleared things up with a 2020 prescription for our “Vision.”

We’ve always done it this way. We thrive on flexibility and new ideas.

First, plan forward and dream wildly. Yes, it can be cathartic (for some reason) to look back and review “what went well” or to use last year’s plan as a template. However, before you take out that super-strategic copy of a spreadsheet and your big lilac marker (purple makes you more creative, right?), clear your mind and think about the future of your company and your customers.

What have we always wanted to accomplish? What have I always thought or known we should do, but haven’t had the guts to say out loud? What will keep us awake at night with excitement over our future? What will create a fire of personal passion and mission in our team and our customers? How can we rise above all expectations? There’s your starting point.

Go ahead and dream. It’s good for you, and it is very good for your business.

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

– Mae West

We need a team brainstorm session. We seek to learn from our stars.

Let’s be honest. Have you ever sat in a conference room (or on a conference call) and tried to “brainstorm”? How effective was that for you? (Cue crickets chirping.) Precisely.

Your most constructive feedback and most powerful ideas for business growth are far less likely to get sprinkled out in the open in front of the masses for speed-shredding or a popular vote than they are to be shared in quiet confidence.

Press pause on the mass planning meeting and start by having a heart-to-heart with your best customers and your team’s superstars. They will gladly tell you everything you need to know to make your business stronger in the coming year. And they are fully engaged in supporting you to do that.

“The future is already her—it’s just not evenly distributed.”

– William Gibson


We’ve tried that before. We know what needs to happen.

Running a successful business is only partly rocket science. The rest comes down to measuring and improving. Your planning should be relevant and current, and it should lead to at least one of the following: a stronger bottom line, higher employee retention and engagement, a growing customer base, and/or a better and more relevant product or service. All of these results are measurable and can be targeted for improvement.

Be willing to ask hard questions. “Why are we continually planning a strategic annual focus around one of our historically less profitable service lines?” Identify your gaps, check for blind spots, and focus on that which will enable your business to survive and thrive.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit


We need a formal strategic plan/spreadsheet/project management software/tracking app…

We need a simple direction to go and a powerful reason to go there.

Your plans should make absolute sense to you, your colleagues, and your customers. They can even amaze and impress them, but to do that, they needn’t be terribly complex or stylish to look at. If you’re having trouble getting buy-in, evaluate the relevance and simplicity of your plan. It’s probably either too complex or lacks significance and value.

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and Other Stories


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