In the olden days, a leadership team would get together every three years and develop a strategic plan. This monolithic process doesn’t cut it in the modern world. By the time you get done with your planning process and get that pretty binder ready, it’s already out of date.
Enter the quarterly planning meeting: a more effective way to align your team and level up your business. No matter what business you’re in, having an annual and quarterly planning cycle is crucial.
Why Are Quarterly Planning Meetings Important?
These days, the world changes quickly. People don’t stay focused for multiple years. Modern frameworks like Scaling Up and EOS moved to a strategy and execution cycle that starts with an annual planning session and then has three quarterly planning sessions. This matches the seasonal cycle, is more intense, and has the amazing benefit of keeping the team focused. It also allows the business to be very agile with strategy and adapt to ever-changing markets.
Quarterly Planning Meeting Agenda Checklist
When I do quarterly planning sessions with my clients, our agendas don’t vary much. There are minor changes from quarter to quarter, but the base framework is always the same. We start with a powerful connection exercise designed to build trust within the leadership team, then we get down to business.
Your quarterly planning meeting agenda should be structured around the following core questions:
- Question 1: How did we do last quarter?
- Question 2: What strategic work do we need to do to drive the business forward?
- Question 3: What issues do we need to solve?
- Question 4: What are the priorities for the next quarter?
Whether you’re using Scaling Up, EOS, Metronomics, or another framework, effective quarterly planning is about answering these four questions. Let’s dive into each one in more detail so you can make the most of your next quarterly planning meeting.
1. How Did We Do Last Quarter?
This is a retrospective exercise during which you look at the company’s annual, quarterly, and individual goals to assess how you did on working towards them during the last quarter. We may include presentations or feedback on individual goals based on the kind of work done.
After that, we look at the company scoreboard. Are you on track to achieve your financial goals? Are there any issues with the metrics that we need to make sure get strategic attention?
Next, we dive into a standard quarterly review. You want the entire team to examine the previous quarter and reflect on everything that happened so they can learn from it. This is a time to…
- celebrate wins
- recognize misses
- plan behavioural changes going forward
- solicit input on what the team feels is holding the business back
- raise any issues that need to be tackled
This entire retrospective process should take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours. Now it’s time to dive into strategy.
2. What Strategic Work Do We Need to Do to Drive the Business Forward?
I recommend devoting up to two hours of your quarterly planning meetings to roll up your sleeves and work on key strategic elements of the business. This portion of the meeting is not about reporting, it’s about mining for issues that need solving, developing accountability, and improving how the team works.
This may include taking an element or two of your one-page strategic plan (or your V/TO if you’re in EOS) and reviewing them to ensure they still make sense. I like to discuss one element of the company’s culture, including gathering some stories and continuing to nurture the culture the leadership team wants.
My other favourite topic for this portion of the quarterly planning session is to dive into talent review. One of the most important things for any business is ensuring you have the right people in the right seats. The talent assessment process isn’t something you do only once a year. You want to develop action plans and hold leaders accountable for improving the talent on their team by reducing C-players and getting more A-players.
3. What Issues Do We Need to Solve? (Hint:Big Issues That Came Up in Your Retrospective)
Hopefully, every team is already doing some form of collective intelligence, or Identify, Discuss and Solve (IDS) in their weekly accountability meetings. Sometimes there’s a backlog of issues or there’s a problem so big that it’s better handled in a quarterly planning meeting.
A few weeks ago, I did a planning session for a client. The CEO raised what sounded like a relatively minor issue, yet the team spent 90 minutes deep-diving into it and realized it was a much bigger problem than they thought. By the end, the team had a specific action plan and was excited about how they were going to deal with the issue.
This is pure gold in a planning session: getting to the root of a problem and having success solving it as a team. The more that your facilitator ensures a healthy debate, the more the team’s muscles get stronger. They make better decisions, solve more problems, and drive the business forward.
4. What are the Priorities for the Next Quarter?
This part is what usually comes to mind when people think about quarterly planning meetings. The idea is to figure out what has to be done to move the needle forward to achieve a vision. We generally pick up to three company-level annual priorities that are aligned with the 3-year vision and big goals. Then each team or individual will get a handful of rocks that push that whole chain forward.
This process requires plenty of debate to figure out what’s most important (hint: it’s always things that move the business forward, not operational items). I like making this a very physical process that maps it out and helps people see the bigger picture around the quarterly plan.
The output of this is not necessarily a set of polished goals – it’s the broad brushstrokes. The homework for each person over the next week is to refine them until they are clear and develop an execution plan that they can bring back to the team at the weekly accountability meeting and ensure everyone is on the same page for each goal.
Be Prepared to Spread the Word
The last thing to ensure you do at your quarterly planning meetings is to come up with a simple cascading message with the highlights of what you discussed during this incredibly productive session.
Never miss an opportunity to share your successes and where the company is headed.
After all, when the entire leadership team disappears for a day, you don’t want to keep everyone in the dark! You should spread this message at your next town hall meeting and each leader should also reiterate this message to their team to get everyone excited about being a part of this plan.
Helpful Hints for Facilitating a Quarterly Planning Meeting
Hold the Meeting Off-Site
Your leaders need to be removed from their day-to-day environment so they’re free from distractions and can focus on what’s most important: reflecting on the last quarter and planning for the next.
Be Flexible and Ready to Adapt to New Priorities
The goal of a quarterly planning meeting is to have the best possible outcome, not to blindly follow an agenda. You may have pre-selected strategic issues to work on. Other times, a more pressing issue may come out of your retrospective.
If something important comes up in the quarterly review, it may make sense to toss your agenda and work on the identified problem. It’s a facilitator’s job to be flexible and adaptable based on what comes out of the meeting.
Don’t Overpack the Agenda
These meetings are tiring. They require active participation and critical thinking. People tend to start mentally checking out around 3 pm, so don’t save hard work until the end. The lighter the agenda, the more flexibility you will have to tackle issues that arise.
Set a goal for the minimum work you want to get done. The extra space will be filled with valuable conversations if the session is facilitated well. This brings us to our last and most important hint…
Hire a Seasoned Facilitator
It’s incredibly hard to be in a quarterly planning meeting and run the meeting at the same time. Since the business leader’s participation is crucial, these sessions should be facilitated by an outside party. Running the meeting is a full-time job that includes managing conversations, driving debate, watching the clock, and ensuring the next thing on deck is ready.
As a seasoned business strategy consultant and coach, I run planning sessions like this for companies all the time. Done right, they’re incredibly powerful. They re-energize your leaders, create focus and alignment, and empower teams to drive forward stronger and faster.
If you’re itching to level up your team and want to develop clarity around your strategy and disciplines around execution, it’s time to give us a call.