Planning to Plan? Invite the Unusual Suspects

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Rose McKinney
Rose McKinney



Planning_700x446Agencies often kick off new client initiatives this time of year as budgets kick into gear. This creates a time of speculation about what’s to come or how a particular campaign will take shape. It’s also a time when we might engage in some planning of our own.

In the latter scenario, we often claim the “crazy busy” mantra and yearn for more time to get it all done. Whether we’re too busy working to plan or too busy planning to work, this time of year is a balance of setting our clients up for success and setting our agencies up for success.

Many client organizations have a formal process often adopted from something like the Balanced Scorecard model. Others have developed a customized process based on the nuances of their business or industry. I’m a big proponent of planning, particularly when it includes contributions from a variety of key stakeholders and perspectives – in fact, anyone beyond the usual suspects.

What comes to mind is a quote by President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Plans are useless; planning is indispensable.” He hits on a key idea. It’s about the result of the process; moreover it’s about the readiness that planning provides. I might add, it’s also about the participants who add perspective and insight to the process.

In aiming to create a plan that is useful and one that will get used, it needs to focus on the results that matter across all aspects of the business. Together, these inputs create cohesion, cross-functional buy in, transparency and accountability. It also promotes readiness for future opportunities and challenges because the collective group has a broader understanding of how the pieces go together.

I’ve had many opportunities to observe and participate in planning meetings for my clients and for my business; it’s always a valuable experience in terms of contributions and takeaways. Recently, a client included my team in a planning retreat. The client’s goal for the day was to fill a notebook with input from a variety of participants (technology, operations, branding, PR, etc.) all while focusing on the short- and long-term strategies that will drive revenue, innovation, employee and customer growth.

If you’re responsible for convening the planning team, consider tweaking what may have become a routine approach for your organization. This could entail some simple change ups:

  • Include different players – perhaps trusted partners from outside the organization and if needed ask them to sign a non-disclosure prior to participating
  • Invite the CFO, a customer or two, their attorney, a college-age son or daughter
  • Invite a few other clients in different industries who face similar challenges
  • Invite a local professor or trade editor
  • Give participants responsibility to facilitate parts of the agenda
  • Hold it offsite to maximize focus and minimize distraction
  • Encourage pie-in-the-sky thinking
  • Understand what attendees want to get out of their participation

And, if you wish you were at the planning summit keep in mind what will get you to the table:

  • Speak up and let leaders know you’d like to be involved
  • Offer a preview of the types of content you can provide – send a few ideas along with rationale for why these are worthy of consideration
  • Share examples of strategies and outcomes from comparable or competitive industries to show you’re smart about the possibilities
  • Embrace a future-forward perspective in your day-to-day work
  • Support the plan with your commitment to its success

Strategic planning will take on new possibilities when you include a wider variety of purposeful participants, especially the unusual ones!


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