Podcast Episode 90 – Annual Strategic Thinking Meeting

The Annual Strategic Thinking meeting is one of the most important meetings on the calendar. It’s where a leadership team decides the strategy for the company and sets goals for the next year (and 3-years). Also, that strategy should clearly inform people in the business about the company focus – and what to say NO to throughout the year.

In this episode, Brad and Kevin discuss:

  • Why you need an Annual Strategic Thinking meeting
  • What an annual meeting agenda must include
  • Tips for a successful annual meeting.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Kevin Lawrence  00:13

Welcome to the growth whispers podcast where everything we talk about is building enduring great companies, not just great companies, not just enduring companies and growing, enduring great ones, which means they’re around for decades and continue to thrive, ideally, from leadership team to leadership team, maybe even generation to generation. That’s what we’re passionate about. I’m Kevin Lawrence. I’m here today, as always, with my co host, Brad Giles, Brad. Hello, and how are you today?

Brad Giles  00:39

I’m doing very well. Thank you, Kevin, very well. Had a very good weekend in our Southwest. And looking forward to an interesting topic today.

Kevin Lawrence  00:48

Yes, me too. Yeah, I was down in Palm Springs last week working with a company I’ve been working with for a decade 40 annual and quarterly meetings later. And I mean, they’re just like, we’re laughing as we’re reviewing the results because it’s just incredible how well they’re doing huge percentage of a players and results that follow. It’s incredible. So let’s get right into it, we got a really great show. Today, we’re talking about the annual strategic thinking, meeting, resetting the whole thing, which is what we were doing in Palm Springs last week, over the last we did over four days, but three days of working. So to kick it off, what’s the word of the day, Brad? What’s your Word of the Day?

Brad Giles  01:33

What is discipline? So I’ve been watching this Beatles documentary. And it’s about really the last recording session of the Beatles. And not long before a few months, I think before their manager Brian Epstein had passed away, tragically. And what they were saying is that we don’t, we’ve lost the discipline, that where we’ve got someone who tells us what to do, and not to do and to keep us organized. And they were self reflecting on that in the way that a coach does. In the wasting Yeah, in the way that a coach does. And through. So through that lens, I was really thinking about how they were they knew that they were struggling, because they lost that that central point of discipline that was external to the band, which, as you may know, only a matter of months later, the Beatles had split up. So discipline, what’s your word?

Kevin Lawrence  02:33

Minus festive. You know, we’re coming into the festive season here. And you know, for those that celebrate Christmas, or whatever the kind of faith that people have, and just, you know, spending some time with my family, just thinking about how, you know, there’s different seasons where and you know, in the Christmas or festive season is one where it brings a whole bunch of joy to it, you know, people decorate their homes, they think about bringing in having special gatherings and just how that kind of puts some sparkle on life and makes things a little more exciting. More time connecting, and just how that’s it’s, they’re great traditions that bring people together.

Brad Giles  03:14

Yeah, life would be nowhere near the same without them. That’s for sure. Right? So another great tradition is the annual strategic thinking meeting. But before we do that, I want to hit you try to stitch together discipline.

Kevin Lawrence  03:29

First. Yeah, it’s its festive discipline. It’s like the It’s the joy of discipline, Brad, you got joy, and fun and bringing people together. And then you got discipline, and it takes good discipline, to have great gatherings of people. You got to plan and get organized discipline and festive discipline. All right. So yeah, strategic plan, the annual I’m just if you didn’t just fresh off one in, in Palm Springs, and, you know, it’s, it’s one of the most important times of the year for a company, you know, it just, you know, just as holiday gatherings are one of the most important times of year for some families. But for a company, it’s everyone comes together and has time to step out of the business and zoom out from what have prospective to really, quote, get on the business. And think about it in a way before they drop back into execution mode. So it’s incredibly impactful. And is, you know, and the one of the key things that we were talking about, as we’re preparing for the show today, is it you know, it’s, it’s at least too often three days that people some people will spend four or five, but you got to spend a few days, so you’re not rushed. So you have time to really contemplate and reflect.

Brad Giles  04:40

Yeah, it’s it really, it really sets the basis for all of the other meetings. So what we’re going to be doing over the next five episodes is a series about the meeting rhythm. So today, obviously we’re talking about the strategic annual the strategic thinking meeting. Then next week, we’re talking about the quarter orderly execution planning meeting. And then we’re talking about the monthly leadership team meeting. And then the week after that the weekly meeting, and then the week after that the daily huddle. So really, through these five episodes, you’ll get a bit of an understanding of the meeting rhythm in its whole. And then I mean, what is the meeting rhythm matter, Kevin?

Kevin Lawrence  05:24

Well, let’s because it keeps us focused and aligned, it also keeps us accountable. When we get into the day job, we get caught up in everything that’s going on, often in short term issues. And this meeting rhythm reconnects us to what’s most important, it connects us to our major goals that marches forward to be the company we want to be, versus the daily drama that we can get lost in.

Brad Giles  05:46

Yeah. So we’ve done another episode, kind of connected to the annual strategic thinking make it the annual strategic thinking meeting, thank you. And that’s Episode 85, how to get the most from a strategic planning framework. So you can certainly have a look at that as a reference point. But as you said, it’s really a two day meeting, some companies have a three day some days, some companies have a bit more, but you need enough time to build a strategy, that you’ll be confident for the next four quarters, essentially, until the next strategic meeting, that depends on the size of your company. And how dynamic the market is, I suppose that bit of best practice could be two, maybe three days agree.

Kevin Lawrence  06:38

Exactly. And ideally, with a lot of the companies that we work with, depending on how the year is going might depict the place that we have the meeting. So the company that I was just with her US based, and often we would go and have our meeting in Mexico or somewhere else for in the US, it’s a nice place to get away to clients or work within India, we’ve done them in many different locations all around the world. They interestingly tie it in to doing tours of similar companies like there’s to do a bit of learning and, and relationship building with similar types of businesses in whatever city they go to. So we go to a better locations when the business is having a better year. But no matter what it’s getting off site together for those, you know, no two, three or four days. And as we roll forward, as some teams are more virtual more often this meeting becomes more important because of the bonding and alignment that happens.

Brad Giles  07:35

Yeah. So you touched on a really important point there, which is best practices to have it off site not to have it in the company meeting room. Gosh, no. But some people think that way. We’ve got a meeting room. Why is

Kevin Lawrence  07:48

that a horrible idea? Brad? Why is it horrible to have it in your company meeting room, especially for the annual I could argue for the quarter. But why is particular for the annual

Brad Giles  07:58

I think psychology, it tells you it’s important. Number one, it tells you it’s it has a different level of importance than other meetings. But number two, you’re not distracted. So you can’t, you can’t walk out to the bathroom in a break and get accosted by someone else in the firm who’s going to ask you 10 or 20 different questions that are going to take your mind off. So this is really about deep work. Get it is thinking is

Kevin Lawrence  08:28

and great way to put. And the other piece is ideally in a perfect scenario. Some of the best ones is you’re staying together in the same house. So for example, the one we just did in Palm Springs, which is much like our team one that we did in Whistler in September or October, sorry. But in this house, we have we rented two houses next door because there were 10 of us and we want everyone to have their own room. But we had a massive work place. And there’s also a pool and a hot tub and places to play games and all of these things. There’s room for breakouts all over the place if you find the right house, but we had a chef who would come in and cook breakfast and lunch for us. We were going out for dinner, I think all the nights except for one. But it gave us an amazing foundation. But we had time together in the morning and you’re eating together and you’re hanging out at night, all these activities really helped to bond you, which is different than a hotel room. Because when the meeting is over, people go back and do their email, talk to their family and do all those other things. And it’s not that you shouldn’t talk to family. That’s great. But the idea is you’re together for 4870 to 96 hours, whatever it happens to be. And that’s there’s major spillover benefits you get from that. Absolutely. Absolutely. Somebody I know owns a retreat center that you can do that in Is that true, Brad? That’s true.

Brad Giles  09:50

Yeah, we’ve got a retreat center here in Western Australia, called heartbeat retreat, and it’s, you know, it’s perfect for that kind of thing. Let’s step Out of the adverts? Well, that’s why we got it because we’ve got so many teams and we know how hard it is to get a really amazing place to go, I guess traits. And so let’s go in. So we’ve got really seven items that you have to cover overall key important items about the annual strategic thinking meeting. So first of all, why does it matter? Why does it matter to have a annual strategic thinking meeting? It answers the question, what is our strategy? So there’s no other meeting in the calendar, where we’re purely dedicated to evolving, understanding and deciding our strategy? And remember that a good strategy tells us what to say no to. So then when we spin off into the 90 day quarterly execution planning meetings, we know what to say no to where we understand, because we’ve set that at the annual

Kevin Lawrence  11:07

Yeah, 100%. It’s, and it’s not complex, but you need to have the time to be able to do that. The rest of the meetings, you’re very much in execution mode. This is the time when you zoom out, contemplate, think about different things. So at this meeting in Palm Springs, we’re talking about, well, what do we want the business to look like at 20? In 2030, which is, you know, eight calendar years down the road for nine, nine years down the road? Have we had time to talk about that? No, we had time just to sit and really wonder what could that be like? Well, what are not be like? And again, normally the other meetings, you don’t have time to think about that? Yeah, so that’s, that’s crazy. So our second, the second major thing is, is reviewing the previous year, a full review. And we’re looking at the review of the financials, obvious, but you know, sometimes people don’t put enough energy into that. And with insight of what’s working, what’s not working, what do we have to do differently? Reviewing of the people looking through the key people in the team? Who are the high performers? Who are the low performers, who shouldn’t be in the company? And how are we going to do that? How are we going to grow develop the team? And then what are the gaps, the key people we have to hire? And then the strategy review, review of all the execution plans that we had. Yeah, and really deep, and then also taking a look at the culture, how’s the culture of the business? So it’s a real time to dress down the business and see what’s working, what’s not? How do we do it better, because aside from being accountable to what we’ve committed, you know, the rest of the meeting is about do it better next year, because we’re resetting that next plan.

Brad Giles  12:46

Yeah, that’s an important point, there is a transition. And I’ve actually got a slide when I get to this point, which is a large photo of a button, and it says reset. So we go through that annual performance, all of the kind of things that you’ve discussed, what worked, what didn’t, did we achieve our priorities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And then, and we achieve our priorities for the past quarter. And then there comes a point, it’s like, now we’ve pressed the reset button, whatever has happened, has happened. Now it’s time to move forward. Let’s get stuck into it. And that really takes us to the next point, which is starting at the top of the mountain and talking about how are we performing on how I Corps ideologies, and initially, obviously, our big, hairy, audacious goal? How are we working with our big hairy, audacious goal isn’t performing. And so we’ve, we’ve got a, an episode on this episode 87, which is the five main B hag big, hairy, audacious goal, mistakes that you may want to reference for that. But yeah, we begin with the B hag, and the core values and the core purpose, how are they working in the company? Are they still right? Where are the errors, those types of things? Yeah,

Kevin Lawrence  14:05

and you know, and often, everyone looks at different strategic tools to help them look at their business. And we get into a bunch of these tools, and lots of the companies who work with take, especially the ones that have been with us to spend time with Jim Collins in his lab, they will also take a look and review the validity of the hedgehog and the validity of their flywheel and the health of their flywheel and what needs to happen next, I would also some of this falls into our next point, as well. But taking a look at these things that you’re using to define and strengthen your company and just checking in on them, what’s the health of them and what might mean need to do different?

Brad Giles  14:45

Yeah, yeah. And there is no not really any other time in the year when you might have this as an agenda item. So we then move on to a strategic analysis of the external and internal environment, again, many tools that you could use for this. But we’ve got to assess what’s changing in the market. What, what is the technology that could impact us the societal changes, if we’re not doing this at least annually, you know, there could be things that could arise that we’re not going to be aware of. And we could act too late. So dedicating time to looking inside and outside the firm as an analysis.

Kevin Lawrence  15:30

And so for example, some of the tools that we might look at is you might look at a SWOT or strengths, weaknesses and trends. There’s Porter’s Five Forces, you know, other tools that have you be able to reflect on this in a structured way.

Brad Giles  15:43

Indeed, indeed. And then we once we understand that we can move on to the next point, which is, how will you be different? Michael Porter’s got some great tools on this that, that we’ve covered off before. How will you be different in the market? How will you avoid commoditization? And so trying to understand, in your firm, what’s worked, what hasn’t, and applying some tools to the thinking that is differentiation in the market in which you play?

Kevin Lawrence  16:16

Yeah, and this is, we’ve done another episode on this, by the way, it’s also differentiation in your whole value chain, versus just in your marketing and how you’re communicating. And those are, it’s the core differentiation in the value chain that makes you compete very, very competitive. And a marketing differentiation is good. It’s just not as impactful and sustainable or enduring as the as the core model differentiated,

Brad Giles  16:43

shout out to our marketing friends who do a great job. But marketing is designed to only focus on the customer side of the equation, where strategy focuses on the entire value chain. And I can already imagine the blank looks on the marketing teams faces when I say that, because I’ve said it and had those plant looks before

Kevin Lawrence  17:03

  1. Yeah. And one is, it’s almost differentiation through business model versus differentiation between through positioning and how you’re communicating with customers. So excellent.

Brad Giles  17:17

And then finally, we work to based on that differentiated differentiation, we moved to decide what are the company goals, the top three to five priorities for the whole company and how we’re going to be different in the three years. And then what are the company priorities for the one year, so then we know that the whole team is aligned around what we need to focus on. So really, we’re walking backwards down that big, hairy audacious goal mountain going from the 10 to 30 year ago, to the three year we understand what happens at the three year and then the one year, and then finally, we move on to a 90 day execution plan.

Kevin Lawrence  18:02

Yeah, and before we get down there, the key thing is, is as your review these different models of your your your B hag, your core ideologies, things like your flywheel, your five forces, your differentiation, or your positioning in the market. When you review all of these things, as you’re reviewing them and calibrating them, you start to get clear on what the most important things you need to do. And that’s this piece that you just talked about. It’s number six, right about the company goals for the three year and the one year is that if you just go pick those goals, you’re going to pick them logically and linearly. But without that, when you have that context, you think about it notably differently, and generally, more strategically. Because you’re seeing gaps, versus well, we just need to logically march ahead, if you don’t do it. And that’s why we got to spend the time on that stuff upfront. And

Brad Giles  18:55

I was speaking with a leadership team only three days ago, about why we set goals starting at the end goal and working backwards rather than us the logic as you said, which is starting today and thinking well, knowing what I know about today, this is where I want to be in 90 days. And then if I execute that this is where I want to be in one year. And then if I execute that this is where I want to be in three to five years. It’s so much more valuable, starting with the end in mind and walking backwards,

Kevin Lawrence  19:28

because you get creative and you end up building bigger gaps and more tension into the thinking. And that tension makes you creative and you find ways to move faster or differently that you wouldn’t in your logical March. So yes, the starting with the end in mind getting really clear, and then letting the tension drive creativity. So company goals for three years and one year really, really critical. And again, when we do a fly wheel review, one of the things we talk about is that you know, every each of your three year goals, it has to helps speed up the flywheel. And if it doesn’t, you should be saying no to it 92 execution plans is fun. That’s where the rubber hits the road, we have a rule of thumb that we use as we can’t leave any quarterly or annual meeting without those 90 Day plans really clear.

Brad Giles  20:13

Never, never, never, never, never. Otherwise, you could forget

Kevin Lawrence  20:17

everything else. And when you’re getting started, you have to have them. Because it’s what you use to go and implement and learn it each time you do it. What interesting things about those 90 Day execution plans is also making sure that they’re smart goals. And, you know, again, the company I was just with, we have very, very clear outcomes on every goal, we have a system and it’s built into the company DNA now that you can’t have a goal without a clear outcome. That’s hard for people to do people who say, Yeah, we’re going to improve the sales process. Okay. To what end? Well, so that it’s better, we’re going to get a higher closing rate. Awesome. What’s your closing rate gonna be? Okay, how much business? Are you going to close? And getting down into tanto? Okay, we’re gonna sign 14 contracts of at least $500,000, each with at least a 35%. Gross Margin. Okay, excellent. That’s very different than improve the sales process. And you know what happened? That’s a whole thing around setting these goals. That’s another topic. But the point was, clear, tangible goals that produce the outcomes for the business. Now, ideally, on these 90 Day plans, there’s two sets, there’s one for the company, and then each executive in the room has their own mini plan for them and their team. And for the CEOs in the room. That’s how you can have real clear accountabilities for your execs. And you can truly see how they’re producing versus expectations, versus just what the financial statements say or how you feel. How do they get their team to rally and deliver those specifics?

Brad Giles  21:50

Yeah, so we’ve done an episode on this episode 71, how to use SMART goals with your team. And you can go back if you so desire. And take a look at that, and see what’s the best practice around those smart goals? And why do they matter? Yep,

Kevin Lawrence  22:05

they sure do. So very good. At the end, we got a 90 day plan for the company. And for each executive in the room, if you’re really advanced, those would scale all the way down the business. But that takes some time to get there. So what to remove that game, we’re talking about the annual strategic thinking meeting. So we’ll go through real quick one, why it matters, because it clarifies our strategy, it gets the team aligned and locked and loaded for the next year. Second one is we do the previous year review so we get the best learning and how we can do better. By the way, my favorite question is, okay, great. How would you rate your performance last year? And what are you going to do to take it up a notch this year, right, constantly improving our performance, confirm the B hag core ideologies? You might even get into the flywheel and other things as well. Number four, strategic analysis internal and external, just looking at what’s going on and what’s changing. Brad, you want to cover the rest there? And then we move

Brad Giles  23:01

on to the differentiators? How will you be different in the market, if you’re not different, you’re becoming a commodity. And then once we understand how we will be different transitioning that into the three year company priorities or goals or differentiators and then the one year, so getting real clarity, a deeper understanding, and then moving on to the 90 day execution plan. And so that’s coming out of a an annual strategic thinking meeting, the team should be really aligned. And they should understand where go where we’re going as a business. And then as you said, they should be taking that alignment back to all of their teams. There should be a communication piece that happens after that. All right, good chat today, Kevin. Very, very good chat. We’re talking about the episode 90, the annual strategic thinking meeting. As always, we will move to close let’s just mention YouTube. So we have a YouTube channel. You can sit you can watch the videos on there, obviously, or through our podcast and each of us have a newsletter as well, that you may wish to subscribe to We produce weekly content. So good chat today care. And let’s look forward to having a chat again next week with everyone about the quarterly execution planning meeting. Have yourself a good week.