When it comes to designing and executing your annual business plan, alignment across the leadership team can be elusive. You think your team has come to agreement only to find that when they return to their desks, old habits persist. When it comes to the success of your integrated business plan, here are four tips for CEOs to reduce the risk of a misfire.

Defining the Integrated Business Planning Process

The integrated business planning process is a marathon. It is not a sprint. This is the process CEOs use to align his or her leadership team to achieve a specific vision, mission, product portfolio plan, and go-to-market plan. It’s the process used to align departments so resources can be allocated most effectively. Through this series of interactive, collaborative sessions, initiatives are debated, prioritized, and action items are agreed to — actions that have a clear owner, timeframe, and expectations. Most companies engage this process once a year. This process is imperative to ensuring the leadership team works as a cohesive body. Yet, why do so many of these planning meetings fail?

Here are four tips to guide your integrated planning process and reduce heartburn and frustration.

1. Communicate clear expectations.

It is not enough for a CEO to gather his or her team and give them a blank sheet off paper. While this may feel empowering, it often stagnates the planning process. Alignment cannot be successful if it starts out as an unbridled free-for-all debate. Instead, the CEO must set some clear guidelines on several areas:

  • A vision of the company’s future. This vision is NOT about you and how fast you want to grow to reach a revenue target! Here’s a fun fact: customers don’t care how fast your company is growing. They do care about their problems and how they can deliver greater value to their customers. That’s what you need to care about, too. So, the CEO should remind or clarify for the team what business they are in, the (types of) problems they are solving today and how this may evolve based on industry dynamics and customer expectations. Express your vision not in a lecture, but via a “Rooseveltian fireside chat” — express your passion for the type of company you want to be. Tell them why you are excited about the future. This vision will be infectious.
  • An expectation for the planning process.┬áThe CEO must set clear rules of engagement regarding how the team engages the process. Department heads must come prepared. They must be willing to engage in constructive conversation. And, they must focus on the greater business, not their individual egos.

2. Foster an environment of trust.

While the CEO must set clear expectations, it’s very important not to dictate the outcome of the planning process. Instead, follow the rule of “all badges on the table.” This means that everyone participates as an equal. You want to invite innovative thinking from everyone on the leadership team. When team members feel intimidated they will not participate. Or worse, they will nod their heads “yes” but become passive-aggressive in the execution. Lack of trust is the silent killer in business meetings.

3. Designate a planning boss.

While the CEO is the ultimate executive sponsor of the planning process, it is not practical to put ownership of the plan on the CEO. Instead, designate a member of the leadership team to own the process and the final outcome. This may be the CMO, VP of Products, or even the Chief Customer Officer. However, success requires that the CEO give this person both the responsibility AND authority to drive the process. The planning boss, drives the objective of the process, sets clear agendas and action items prior to each meeting, documents the outcome of each meeting, and owns the development of the final plan. This means that the “power of the pen” resides in the planning boss. Based on the discussions, agreements, and prioritization, they own the final write up. This document becomes the bible for execution throughout the year. Success in this role will require attention to internal politics.

4. Hold people accountable.

Accountability is key. Without it, the plan will fall apart and not be executed. Team members will drag their feet. Often times, the accountability issue can be easily addressed with the CEO’s opening comments. However, if the issue runs deeper, it is worth hiring an outside expert who can help you navigate any company culture issue or diffuse any difficult personalities or HR trouble spots.

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The success of your integrated business planning process requires tight alignment across the executive team. Although these four tips seem simple and obvious, they are commonly missed or poorly reinforced. Be bold and address them as your first step. You’ll reduce risk and increase your team’s productivity. This is the key to unlocking the full potential of your leadership team and discovering the essence of your future success.

Mike Gospe

Mike Gospe leads KickStart’s Integrated Business Planning process. He has more than 30 years of B2B tech leadership experience.

Mike Gospe and his team are professional facilitators with deep expertise in the integrated business planning process. Learn more about how Mike and his team are helping CEOs to future-proof their business.