Every year in January, I take my company on a journey of discovery and goal setting for the coming year. These planning sessions are designed to uncover areas where we need improvement and to brainstorm what we should focus on. Unlike the dreaded business planning motions that some companies go through, ours are quite an enjoyable and motivational experience.

Our Process
We start by evaluating our accomplishments and shortcomings for the prior year. We review our company values - these are the guidelines that we use to shape our decisions. Once this stage is set, we dive into a series of goal-oriented dialogs. We list out our targets. We evaluate our processes for everything: identifying new features, examining support and marketing, and reviewing general operations. And we discuss all of the ideas for enhancements to our sites, MailerMailer and MoreBusiness, taking into account customer requests and our competition.

Then, the tricky part starts. Everyone has a limited set of resources. This step of our process forces us to evaluate the level of effort involved and the value derived from each item on the board. The result is a grid with a 1-10 ranking per item.

The next stage involves prioritizing. We ask ourselves the following question as our litmus test: if we did what is written for this item by December 31, could we say that we had a successful year? Sure, lots of things are "this would be nice to do" items. But we're going for the items that cry out and say "doing this would make us more successful, either by increased retention, more sales, reduced costs or some other very tangible business metric."

We assign a priority for each item and circle the ones that pass the litmus test, jotting down the key people responsible for making the goal come to fruition. The circled items represent our core goals for the year - things that we will measure our success by when we have our planning sessions in January 2009.

Making it Meaningful
This isn't a process in which the management decides what to do. It is an open dialog with the key members of our company to optimize our "to do" list for the next 12 months. We do accommodate for changes, revisiting our plan several times throughout the year to discuss progress and goals that need to be tweaked or removed.

We don't do all of this in one day or even two. My feeling is that doing so would burn everybody out. So, we stretch it out over four to five days, meeting for a few hours each morning to allow for "breathing" time. Often, people bring back ideas the next day after digesting the dialogs. At the end of the week, we have our action plan and a motivated, focused team ready to tackle the new year.

All the best for 2008!