Refresh Cycle: Quarterly and Annually

Some think of strategic planning as a one time or every 3 years exercise. In my experience, it is most beneficial to think about it as an ongoing process that has a key focus on at least a quarterly cycle.

These reviews are your chance to work on the business model as a leadership team. People are programmed in a way that makes it difficult for them to stay on plan much past three months without a need to refocus on priorities. Recurring reviews create the checkup, resetting and refresh that ensures efforts stay aligned and making progress toward your annual plan and overall business model. Most teams find quarterly is the right pace, but startups and other very agile organizations may have shorter monthly or even two week refresh iterations.

At your first meeting and annually, create your cheat sheet and keep it up to date. Reserve about two full days to work on the Business Model elements with your team. Pay special attention to Positioning elements.

Other quarterly strategy review meetings can be more focused day long sessions where the timeframe is narrowed to 3 months or less to create near-term Goals and Rocks that support annual Initiatives and Themes. Define key results that ensure progress on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis is contributing to deliver longer-term Themes. It should have a standing agenda similar to:

  1. Review last quarter’s Goals and Rocks (uncover any issues)
  2. Review Positioning and Strategy to renew focus
  3. Establish Goals and Rocks for next quarter
  4. Detail actions for quarter’s focus area (uncover any Issues)
  5. Prioritize and solve important Issues for next quarter
  6. Wrap-up: Summarize, Review Action Items, Rate meeting

Agenda item 4 suggests giving a specific focus area for each quarterly meeting that ensures attention on an important theme or other destinations outside of more routine operations by the team.

Your annual planning meeting is one of these key focus areas where you renew strategy and adjust for changes in environmental context.

Other quarters may have another focus area around a specific Theme. You can choose to focus on sales, product, and other major portions of your business model on a quarterly rhythm. Evaluating People and ensuring you have “the right people in the right seats” (Traction, pg 4) should be another focus area.

Q3 is when many organizations refresh strategic objectives and tune longer term plans. Finishing strategic planning efforts by October allows for those deliverables to feed into the annual planning cycle and prevents conflict between the two efforts.

A typical cycle is:


Q1 – Detail Department Plans (focus on Product Road-map and Sales Enablement)

Q2 – Talent Management (People Practices, Talent evaluations, Comp review, Org structure and key resource needs)

Q3 – Strategic Planning (3-5 yr SW-T, Themes, Outcomes, Measures, Goals, Initiatives)

Q4 – Operations Budgets and Staffing

I like to think of strategic planning as an on-going process that is evaluated and refined every quarter, with some rotating focus.  Using a quarterly planning cycle (or even more frequently if your have a need to evaluate learning faster) ensures the strategy stays relevant and gets translated into execution more effectively.

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