Beginning your annual planning process with an offsite meeting is like buying a car based on the loudest commercial. 

A bit of research can help you avoid a costly mistake – whether it’s the purchase of a vehicle or making strategic choices. Don’t get me wrong. The offsite session is certainly an imprtant event, but without thorough preparation, the outcome will be flawed. Much to the dismay of many executives who would like to believe their schooling is behind them, quality planning requires homework.

Think of strategy planning in three phases – data collection, analysis and decisions. Leaping immediately to decisions will very likely lead to disappointing results. Leaders have a tendancy to apply gut instinct to planning. After all, experienced executives who understand their business should have a pretty good sense of what next year needs to look like. Except there is a fundamental risk in mapping the future based on past experience – nothing is static in business. Last year will never repeat itself. Your people have changed, the marketplace has shifted and your competition has pivoted. Next year must be looked at through the lens of current realities not historical knowledge.

Start at step one – data collection. This includes marketplace intelligence, competitor analysis and an internal assessment of business capabilities. I tell my clients, a quality planning process feels like going back to school. There is homework. Don’t avoid this step. Assemble the data and make sure everyone who will be attending the offsite session internalizes the material. That’s the analysis step. I did some work with a CEO who would not allow participants to join the planning session if the material had not been read and absorbed. It only took one time for this to happen before team members complied. The avoidance of embarassment is a powerful motivator.

Making your planning effort data-centric will pay dividends. Otherwise, you will find yourself signing up for strategic commitments based on the loudest voice in the room. Opinions matter but data must rule when setting a course for your business.