The annual planning meeting: Preparing for transition

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What is the right number of employees for a viable business?

We’ve been scheduling annual planning meetings for about a decade. If I could dust off the old plans, I would see massively impressive projections for a multi-national business with publications in several US cities and revenues through the roof of anything we’ve ever experienced.

A decade later and, well, there are publications in several US cities and states, but the revenues aren’t so great.  It seems the plans, drawn up in full-scale multi-page documents, were more an exercise in wishful thinking than meaningful projecting.

Why didn’t the plans work? And were the meetings — that in the early years of the process resulted in consulting, speaking and travel costs of upwards of $10,000 per meeting — worthwhile?

The answer to the two questions may seem contradictory, but I think can be explained by a few observations.

It is much easier to plan than to achieve. Both internal and external things happen that can blow plans out of the water. Internally, I acknowledge that I may have failed to think through and properly make the sacrifices needed to push the goals forward. Externally, our original concepts were faltering in the marketplace, and new technologies, business values and competition thwarted the original expectations.

The planning process, however, enabled the business to survive, bringing together creative solutions to problems and helping to build cohesion within the organization. We have much more disciplined financial and business management processes, and have successfully shared ideas — some of them perhaps valuable enough to be “business saving” within the organization.

We’ve ditched the consultants, holding the meeting in a free boardroom at a hotel where we trade out advertising for rooms when we need them. This meeting, we’ll begin the challenging process of planning for the business transition.

I’m 63.5 years old. And while I’m not ready to leave the company, I think it would be best that it could be in place to continue after I reach 70 and am ready to “retire”.

Will we get it right?  If you look at the success level of the original business plans and expect everything to go as originally projected, probably the answer cannot be too optimistic. But if you look at how the planning process spurred innovation and idea sharing, and allowed the business to continue in sometimes turbulent conditions, you would be much more positive.

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