If you’re like most B2B technology leaders, you’ll be embarking on your 2024 annual business planning workshop in Q4. The most productive workshops are conducted via an in-person leadership offsite. Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with many leadership teams to facilitate annual planning offsites, workshops, and exercises. Here are three best practices that ensure yours get off on the right foot.
1. Clarify & Confirm Your Company’s Vision & Mission Statements
The process of annual business planning is so much more effective if it is grounded in bringing your company’s vision and mission to life.
You may find this unsettling, but your team’s understanding of your company’s vision and mission is not as unified as you think. A company’s vision and mission can only be manifested if all employees know, recognize, and can articulate what these mean. When working with companies, my first step is to conduct a quick assessment where I ask random leaders and employees to tell me their company’s vision and mission statement. I often get random answers or blank stares.This can easily be addressed by kicking off your planning workshop with a reminder of your company’s vision statement and mission statement. Don’t assume that everyone knows these as well as you do.
What is a “vision statement”?
Vision statements are aspirational, long-term in nature, and illustrate value that allows your customers to succeed. In fact, your vision statement says more about your customers that it does about your company. Key attributes that make effective vision statements:
- Simple, clear, and inspirational
- Attach deeper meaning and purpose
- Long-term in outlook
- Ambitious but achievable
- Distinct to the organization
- Memorable and motivating
A few examples:
IKEA: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”
Disney: “To make people happy.”
Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
When used properly, your vision statement becomes a guiding “north star” that focuses efforts, rallies staff, and differentiates your company in a competitive landscape because you have this vision and they do not!
What is a “mission statement”?
A mission statement operationalizes the vision statement. While your vision looks towards the big, inspirational future state the company aims to help create, your mission grounds things in your current products, services and strategies that will fulfill your purpose.
- Outlines the company’s day-to-day business purpose
- Explains fundamental goals and focus for present-day operations
- Describes key offerings and customer segments
- Guide for decision-making aligned to core competencies
- More tangible and executable
For example, IKEA’s mission is “to offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
When it comes to setting priorities and plans for 2024, or looking ahead to 2026, it is imperative to have all employees and departments aligned to turn your vision and mission into reality. Confusion drives a wedge in your alignment efforts, creates unnecessary friction between teams, and slows innovation. So, never miss an opportunity to remind your organization of your vision and mission. Repetition is required for success.
2. Leverage your Customer Advisory Board (CAB)
Many technology companies have embraced the CAB as a tool to strengthen customer relationships. But your CAB should never be treated as a “marketing event”. The most effective companies use their CAB as a strategic asset that is tied directly to their annual planning efforts.
An important best practice is to have your leadership team review all the notes from your most recent CAB meetings. Properly structured, your CAB agendas are excellent tools for conducting executive-level market research. You’ll learn more about the trends and drivers shaping their businesses. You’ll discover how, when, and why their priorities are changing. And, most importantly, you will discover direct (and indirect) clues as to what your business needs to provide in order to maintain your leadership position and stay relevant in the market three years from now.
For every business decision and investment priority you make, you should be able to tie it back to advice and insight you’ve learned from your CAB. Your CAB is there to offer advice as input to your annual planning workshop. And, you can test your 2024 plans with your CAB early in 2024. Learn how to harness the full value of your CAB. After all, that’s why you have one.
3. Hire a Professional Facilitator for your Business Planning Workshop
The most productive business planning workshops are structured with clear objectives and expectations. Yet, when you get in the room, your agenda may turn into a boxing match. Human egos can quickly take you off track. A CEO once told me that before he brought my partner and I in to facilitate these meetings, his planning sessions turned into lots of yelling. You need a way to deflate this problem before it overshadows everything. Hiring a skilled facilitator to guide these discussions can be a big help. In hiring a facilitator, you’re removing risk of an executive melt-down. A skilled facilitator will:
- Allow you to participate as an equal (because it is very difficult to facilitate and participate as an equal at the same time)
- Act as a coach to help your staff prepare for the workshop
- Moderate to ensure discussions stay productive, constructive, and on track
- Keep the peace
- Capture/assign action items, owners, and due dates
- Ensure the workshop ends with an “agree and commit” acknowledgement — even if someone disagrees
About the Author
Mike Gospe is a skilled marketing strategist and a facilitator of annual planning workshops for B2B tech companies. He routinely acts as an Interim CMO helping B2B technology companies grow from $50M ARR to $100M ARR. He brings four decades of marketing expertise and leadership experience across demand gen, product marketing, and brand disciplines. He is also a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) strategist & professional facilitator, with more than 20 years of experience and 250+ in-person & virtual advisory board meetings under his belt. His CAB Resource Center, a website sharing a variety of CAB strategies and best practices, has become a trusted resource for CAB managers and executive sponsors around the world.