Annual planning is one of the most important things any CEO and executive team will participate in as another year comes to a close. A good annual plan not only sets the stage for the year ahead, it can also help all of your teams become more focused and aligned to achieve both short- and long-term goals.

It goes without saying that annual planning is critical to year-after-year corporate success. But what’s even more crucial to developing a winning annual plan and keeping everyone within an organization on track to achieve company goals as the year goes on, is a good facilitator. Whether it’s the CEOs themselves or contracted individuals, in order to successfully facilitate an annual planning session, the following should be kept top of mind:

Forethought. A constructive way to begin any meeting, especially an annual planning session, is to finish the statement, “This meeting will be successful if…” It’s helpful to begin any important meeting with an end goal in mind. By creating an objective statement that clearly outlines the intentions and expectations of the session, a facilitator can ultimately increase meeting productivity among team members. 

A good objective statement should cover:

  • What are you going to do? What action are you taking?
  • How will you go about doing it? It may also helpful to outline criteria, scope, involvement, specific tactics and success measurements here.
  • Why are you doing this? And why is it important?

Preparation. Any time a team is brought together, whether for a few hours or a few days, it is an investment of both time and resources. This is why preparation for annual planning is key. Prior to meeting, it is essential to have all meeting material prepared, the meeting agenda and any necessary pre-work distributed to team members, and all last minute details worked out. After all of the particulars are achieved, the individuals participating in the session can be 100 percent focused on the task at hand – the annual plan.

A great way to prepare for this type of session, is to get everyone involved prior to meeting by having each team member provide their thoughts on what the company should start doing, stop doing, and keep doing for the upcoming year. In the meeting, people can share notes and pick the top two most important items. This will create a collective list of things to focus on throughout the New Year. 

Focus on the future. Oftentimes, companies are so fixated on the present moment that they don’t take the necessary steps to plan for a successful future. The overall goal of an annual planning session is to foresee priorities and growth opportunities for the year ahead, and plan out the necessary action items to achieve them. Another great exercise for facilitators to run is a brainstorm session of ideas to double revenue in the next three to five years. After a list has been developed, the facilitator should rank each idea on impact and which will be easiest to tackle as the year begins.

Support. The facilitator’s ultimate role is to provide the support and structure necessary for everyone to do their best thinking. A great facilitator has the ability to set the tone of the meeting, and can influence the outcome by encouraging and welcoming all ideas. Fostering a positive environment for decision-making is crucial of any good facilitator. Try some of the following practices to get the most out of your annual planning session, or any important meeting amongst teams for that matter:

  • Use brainstorming exercises to identify all possible solutions.
  • Set a time limit for discussion on each potential solution to get the most out of your time together.
  • Make sure that everyone is participating at one point or another throughout the discussion as well as actively listening when someone else is presenting an idea.
  • Work to narrow the options down to as few as possible and don’t be afraid to call for a vote to see how close the group is to full agreement.
  • Engage the group in troubleshooting to minimize the potential negative impact identified by any objections or concerns raised
  • Finish strong and ask for feedback – even the best facilitators have room for improvement.

A strong annual plan can set an organization up for a year of success, making the planning session one of the most essential meetings a CEO can lead. Keeping these pointers in mind can ensure a great session, and a prosperous year to follow.  


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