The mid-year planning review meeting

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Today, out-of-town employees will arrive in Ottawa for tomorrow’s mid-year planning review.  We’ve been having these meetings (and the related (and larger) annual planning session in October, since a life-threatening business crisis in 2005-2006.  The meetings are costly, in that we need to pay travel and accommodation costs and, of course, not much operating business happens on the meeting day.

I certainly appreciated the meetings’ value when we first started them in 2006.  Previously, the company had a “virtually no meetings” policy — when we had a meeting, it usually represented an ad-hoc discussion or crisis.  Consultant Bill Caswell called our first crisis/planning meeting then, and helped us set up our current meeting system.  This involves two weekly meetings.  The first, on Monday, is a general staff meeting.  The second, on Thursday, is for the sales team.  These meetings are structured with a scheduled time, rules of order and a clear one hour maximum.  Participants either are in the office or (more commonly) join in by teleconference.

The two major meetings each year have a different purpose.  We review our budgets, overall business strategies, and possibly set out the course for the next six months to year.  The mid-year review is more of a course correction exercise — it allows us to make some collective decisions about our progress.  These meetings are open to everyone in the business and everyone is encouraged to attend.

The question I’m asking now, is do they work the way they should?

certainly I don’t spend long hours agonizing about the meetings and planning for them.  The systems are fairly clear and we’ve taken some measures to reduce costs.  (Aeroplan points reduce high air travel costs and a trade-out with a local hotel means we don’t have hotel bills to worry about.)  Nevertheless, we still have to pay for food (including a pre-meeting dinner at an expensive restaurant), Bill Caswell’s facilitating fees and other incidental costs.  Are we simply having the meeting because of a new tradition (see yesterday’s post) or because they are really valuable to the business.

The best answer I can give is the test our business experienced this time two years ago, as the recession hit and projections from the previous annual planning session (developed just as the troubles were starting) needed to be revised with major changes.  We boiled the meeting costs to the minimum (that year we started the relationship with the hotel, and in this case, one of our furthest-located contractors agreed to participate by teleconference) and took apart the financial projections, to make the necessary adjustments.  I won’t say the meeting saved the business, but at least it allowed everyone to share and appreciate the urgency of the situation we were encountering.

This year’s meeting is less a crisis planning session than a progress update and review and we can look more closely at why our growth plans are taking longer to materialize than I’d like.  However, the meeting has an added value:  It allows us all to connect and relate to each other and be more aware of each other, especially for those who spend most of their time in remote locations and don’t see the local staff and contractors.

I’ll always keep my eyes open and put the meeting system under the microscope for review.

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