5 Critical Questions to Ask Before Creating Your 2013 Annual Plan

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On January 7, 2013

I can’t think of a single successful business that achieved success without good strategic planning. That’s not to say that successful companies execute their strategic plans exactly as they’re written out. To be successful today requires that businesses be nimble and able to adapt to changing conditions. Even so, good planning is foundational to the success of your company.

In the same way, asking the right questions is foundational to good planning. Good plans are based on good data and good assumptions. And that means asking some tough questions. Here are five questions that are critical to ask yourself before you come up with your plan for the coming year.

1. What are you already doing well? Identify where you perform at or above expectations. That means looking at the data. Make sure the expectations are clearly defined and measurable. It’s not good enough to “feel” like you’re doing well. If you’re doing well in sales, what were your goals? Did you meet or exceed them, and if so—by how much? Apply the same measure to other areas. Did Marketing do a good job of generating leads? How many were you shooting for? How many did you get? Was your budgeting on target? How close did you get? Be specific and use what you learn to set your new goals.

2. What does your SWOT look like heading into the new year? Business climates and environments change. Don’t assume that your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, or Threats will remain the same from one year to the next. Competitors, legal changes, and new technologies are just a few of the things that can alter your SWOT evaluation. Make sure you take a fresh, objective, and informed attitude to your SWOT evaluation.

3. Is my team the right team to have a great 2013? Sometimes you’ll encounter people on your team who simply aren’t the right fit for what the business needs to move forward. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people or bad workers. They simple don’t have (and can’t acquire) the skills, aptitude, or drive to perform at the level your company needs. Most of the time people have a sense that they’re not performing at the level required, and—even though it’s painful to confront—they’re often relieved when they don’t have to continue in a position for which they’re not suited.

And what about you? Are you the leader you need to be to lead your team? What do you need to change about your leadership? What’s your plan for being a better leader?

4. What are your top five priorities for 2013? A lot of businesses stumble in the area of priorities. They treat everything the same. Some things are more important than others. Sometimes saying “yes” to one priority means saying “no” to something else. A good way to help you prioritize efforts is to record exactly how a particular priority will drive your success in 2013. What (specifically) will happen if you do it? What will happen if you don’t?

5. Is your business built to handle constant change and disruption? Those two things are simply part of doing business today. I alluded to it in the question about your SWOT. What customers demand can change at the drop of a hat. Disruptive technologies can change whole industries (just ask the people in publishing!). Do the basic assumptions of your business model reflect the reality of the market, or do you need to rethink your model?

Those are the five questions I consider the “top five critical questions” to ask before you begin your annual planning. What questions would you add to this list?