We gathered in the Ottawa Construction Association boardroom yesterday for the first of our two day annual planning session. Consultant and facilitator Tim Fleming led us through an approach different than previous years: We are spending far less time studying the numbers and focusing on problems, than on looking at our strengths and our future aspirations.
Fleming used a variety of techniques to generate ideas from everyone in the room. One challenge with conventional meetings is that one or two employees (or owners/managers) tend to dominate the event — causing others to go silent, or to spend more energy in responding to the powerful voices than in outlining their own thoughts. Fleming encouraged small group interactions, using controlled scripts and other techniques to draw out all the ideas. These can then be synthesized into more specific priorities and (later today) into specific working groups and committees to ensure successful implementation.
Most small business owners would shudder at the “cost” of this exercise. I needed to bring 10 employees and independent contractors to the meeting, away from their usual work responsibilities, for two days. This included flying an employee from Timmins, Ontario and an independent contractor from Durham, North Carolina. We needed as well to pay the facilitator, meals and incidental costs (I offered contractors a per-diem equivalent to their usual income with us, because they couldn’t bill for their regular services while at the meeting.)
Of course, I practiced some frugality in managing this event. We traded hotel rooms for advertising, used airline points to obtain the plane tickets and rented the construction association’s boardroom — available to members when it isn’t used for association business.
Nevertheless, the cost in time and cash is still significant — we needed to allocate about $5,000 in cash. The time cost will be equally significant. After all, in addition to the formal planning meeting, we will need several weeks of committee and sub-group gatherings to pull together our actual business plan for the upcoming year.
However, I’m convinced that annual planning exercises are mandatory if your organization has more than five employees, and if you are smaller, you should still build in a self-disciplined planning process. This is because you both need to engage your team in the business and set your benchmarks and goals for the upcoming year.