As we near the end of 2008, now is time to start planning for 2009. By reflecting on the current year, you can identify key priorities for your firm and for each person on the management team. Their participation in such planning will also allow you to gain different perspectives and bond with the management team members.

Annual planning should not be viewed as a one-time event, but rather as an ongoing process that starts in November and continues throughout the following year. Annual planning in your firm should break down planning into 2 sections: (1) annual planning for your firm; and (2) annual business planning for your associates or producers.

Firm planning

At the firm level, I would recommend holding a 2-day offsite planning session in November to evaluate the current state of your company and to map out your goals for the coming year. This meeting should encompass 3 items.

First, formulate, revise or reaffirm your firm’s vision and mission statements. This can be difficult and time-consuming, but in the end is worthwhile.

Second, incorporate several hours of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis on your firm into the agenda. Ask each member of the management team attending the meeting to be prepared to discuss SWOT on each area of the firm. These areas can include training, recruiting, coaching and mentoring of producers to name a few. By analyzing these areas you may find certain members of the management team feel the firm training program needs improvement and offers some suggestions as to how to improve.

As a complement to the SWOT analysis, determine strategic goals for your firm using a “continue, start, stop exercise.” Ask each person to come prepared with ideas about what the firm should continue doing, start doing and stop doing? This exercise will help to focus the firm’s priorities, reaffirm good things you are doing and/or uncover a new idea to implement, like a study group for certain associates.

Third and last, have each person be prepared to review their individual goals for the coming year. These can be business goals such as training, production or recruiting objectives or even personal goals. These goals should tie into the firm’s overall goals.

As a follow-up to the 2-day planning meeting in November, I would suggest meeting again in January for one day to finalize what the goals are for the year and set priorities. Thereafter, I would suggest holding a quarterly meeting to review firm goals to ensure the business is on track and making any needed changes to your plan.

If you set goals and strategic initiatives in your firm then you must monitor them regularly, whether it is weekly, monthly or quarterly. This lets the management team know you are committed to the goals.

Lastly, don’t make your firm goals a secret. Publish them regularly, like in a monthly newsletter. This allows the firm to have a common goal to strive for.

Planning for associates

Each November, I would suggest asking your associates to put together a business plan for the coming year. Have a template to give to all associates so that the business plans are consistent.

As a firm I would counsel formulating and grouping together study groups of associates who are at certain production levels. Arrange for each study group to meet regularly, for example, weekly, monthly or quarterly. During these meetings, review where each associate stands on their business plan.

The agendas for these study groups usually focus on activity, production, best practices and practice management. Activity can be measured against the One Card System standards; production can be monitored against the associate’s business plan and company-established thresholds and conferences. Also, members of each study group can share best practices or insights gleaned from books they’ve read.

I also recommend implementing a year-long sales contest wherein producers can qualify for a company-paid trip, such as a 4-day/3-night getaway, by earning a certain number of points. The awarding of points might be based, for example, on achieving a certain production level, keeping a good lapse ratio or an associate’s experience.

Summing up

In summary, it is critical that your firm and producers set aside time to work on annual planning, then review and monitor those plans. Both the firm and associates will thereby be able to identify key priorities for the coming year. Such planning will also provide a basis upon which to evaluate whether you are on pace to achieve the desired results and whether adjustments to the plan will be needed.