What Is a Planning Meeting?

A stack of planners on a black desk next to an open planner with planning meeting notes written in it.

Whether you call it a planning meeting, strategy meeting, or strategic review meeting, it’s one of the most important types of meetings you can hold for your company each year.

Planning meetings focus on where your business is going in the year ahead. It’s the plan and goals you develop with leadership that will advance and propel the company into the future. 

What comes out of the planning meeting will affect your quarterly goals, drive the monthly stats, and be a daily focus for your team and all employees. Whatever the company’s priorities are for the future, the planning meeting is where you and leadership will develop the plan and strategy for improving those priorities for its overall success.

So if your company is going to have a big year, you need to have a big planning meeting to get you there. Here are tips you can use to lead a successful planning meeting so you and your company can have a successful year ahead! 

Who should attend the planning meeting?

Every planning meeting requires thorough preparation to make it worthwhile. To prepare for the planning meeting, first identify who needs to attend. This will consist of your company’s essential people, and should reflect your agenda and what information or topics are going to be discussed. 

If you don’t have the right people for the meeting, you run the risk of not being able to solve a problem or have the information you need to accurately set goals or strategy, etc. Consider inviting people such as: 

  • Managers
  • Executives
  • Subject matter experts
  • Those who have or collect specific data that you will be looking at during the meeting 
  • Anyone who implements policies, makes decisions, or has a say in how things go 

You don’t want the meeting to have too many attendees, so keep that in mind as well. You want everyone you need, and no one more.

Sending the planning meeting invites

Once you’ve identified who should attend the planning meeting, notify them several weeks in advance that:

  • Attendance is expected and required 
  • Engagement and participation is essential

Emphasize that the planning meeting’s success only happens (and is contingent on) if there is buy-in and commitment from those who attend. They have a role in leading the company into the future (everyone does, but especially them), and this is the meeting where that is going to happen. If you get their engagement, developing and implementing the plan will have a much higher chance of success.

Sending an abbreviated or full agenda can also help give attendees a heads up on what will be discussed and what resources they will be expected to bring. You want everyone to come prepared, so any information you can provide in advance of the meeting to help accomplish that will contribute to a successful meeting.

When should you have the planning meeting?

Planning meetings typically occur once a year, but they could also occur quarterly or more frequently if you’re facing a particularly big year or a lot of moving targets. 

You should hold your planning meeting at least once a year in line with milestones that are important to your company. For example, you might want to meet after important data is released or a few months in advance of a major product launch.

No matter when you plan to have the planning meeting, think carefully about the meeting day and timing. If the meeting was crammed into one day in the past, was that a successful model? What if you had the meeting over the course of 3 days, for 2-3 hours each morning, with lunch catered for everyone after?

Should the meetings be off-site more like a retreat, or on-site like a traditional meeting? Keep in mind that going off-site can be much more expensive, and will take much more time (getting people there, getting set up, etc) -- but it can also yield greater results by getting people in a new space with new things to think about.

Taking these things into consideration will ensure you keep people engaged, avoid burnout or rushing through things, encourage creativity, and have an overall positive experience. This is an important meeting, so you want the best from your best by creating an environment that reflects that. 

How do you create a planning meeting agenda?

To develop the planning meeting agenda, brainstorm topics and questions you want to address. Some examples are below; prepare your responses in advance and include similar items on the agenda for a more in depth discussion during the meeting. As the meeting leader, you should have your own ideas and responses ready to encourage discussion and share with everyone what you are seeing. 

  • Review your company’s core mission and strategy. Set aside time to remind everyone what these are and what they mean to the company. This could be a quick review or it could be a more engaging activity, encouraging attendees to participate by sharing examples of when they’ve seen employees demonstrating the mission.
  • Focusing on strengths and starting off positively. Discuss and brainstorm what you think your company’s strengths are and write them out during the meeting. To focus on positive things at the beginning of the meeting, have each attendee share good news or uplifting stories that will set a positive tone.
  • Current challenges or issues the company/industry is facing, weaknesses that need improvement. A planning meeting is a great time to identify areas of improvement; what are the gaps between where the company is now and where it wants/needs to be? To encourage participation or keep the discussion organized, this bigger topic could be broken down by each unit or group in the company, and attendees can break down into smaller groups to brainstorm and report back to all.
  • A vision for the future. Review current goals and evaluate if they need to be updated. This discussion should include long and short-term company goals, and may include goals for specific units and groups that roll up into bigger company goals. Part of this discussion should include what is going right and what is going wrong to ensure milestones are being met and catch problems far enough in advance.
  • Review and discuss company targets. Similar to reviewing company goals, the planning meeting is a great time to review progress on company targets and set new targets, whether they’re financial or not.
  • Clearly identify shorter term goals. Set aside time to discuss clear quarterly and/or monthly goals that reflect long term goals. These goals ensure your company can achieve the long term goals.
  • Additional considerations for the agenda. Allow time for open discussion or a question/answer period. By building it into the agenda, you’ll plan for it timewise and allow others to plan for it and know that they have a space to voice miscellaneous concerns related to planning.

If tangents or other ideas come up, have a space designated on the screen or whiteboard specifically for noting tangential ideas to come back to later or address in different meetings. That way, everyone will feel their thoughts are considered without derailing a current discussion. 

And brainstorm questions you have for the group, then send them out in advance of the meeting! Your attendees will want to be prepared with answers.

Tips for leading a successful planning meeting

You’ve planned for this meeting, invited the right people, and prepared an agenda. As the day approaches, here are some additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Be positive, but don’t overlook things that aren’t going right or going well. This is the time to address them.
  • Encourage discussion as a facilitator, but bring focus back to the agenda (specifically for a planning meeting) if the meeting veers off to non-planning related topics or questions.
  • If the energy levels have dropped, cut the meeting short and don’t try to push through the agenda for the sake of getting through it. Figure out what is most important to accomplish today and then schedule follow-up meetings as needed to get through the rest.
  • Have a designated note-taker or someone who can take pictures of the ideas written on the whiteboard at the end of the meeting to ensure accountability and keep a record.
  • Plan for follow-up later on. When the planning meeting comes to an end, it’s actually just the beginning. Anticipate and delegate follow up on action items that will be addressed in group or unit monthly, quarterly, or other types of meetings. That way, all the hard work that came out of the planning meeting won’t be forgotten.
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