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The last thing you want to think about, now that you’re deep into end-of-year marketing madness, is what you’re going to do next year, right? Don’t worry; I’m not going to take you away from the company Christmas party just yet.

However, the best time to plan for 2016 success is right after you close the books on 2015, while your achievements and challenges are still fresh in your mind. What worked well or didn’t pan out the way you hoped? What could you do in 2016 that will really move the needle?

January is a good planning month because you’re in the quiet zone between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and you have at least preliminary quarterly and year-end results to review in your planning session.

The goal is to have your team collaborate on a plan that outlines strategies and programs. This will help youimplement and guide decision-making, resource requests and allocations, personnel needs and timelines through the year.

By turning it into a group exercise, you also create the opportunity to give everyone on your team a voice in the process and a stake in its success.

7 Steps to a Strategic Plan for 2016

In my earlier life as a strategic consultant, I helped dozens of companies run high-level planning sessions. Here’s what delivered the best results regardless of company size, location and organizational structure:

1. Focus first on your hits and misses from 2015.

Knowing what worked and what didn’t will help guide you and your team in your strategy planning for 2016. Encourage honesty in discussions, but avoid finger-pointing to avoid hurt feelings that can impede progress.

2. Move on to blue-sky brainstorming to create a strategic wish list for 2016.

Ask attendees (whole group or small groups) to brainstorm everything they could do to help the company hits its numbers and make more money for everybody.

Suppose one 2015 problem was losing too many potential sales in abandoned carts. Somebody might suggest adding a cart-recovery program. Write that idea on a sticky note and slap it on the wall, or add it to a list on a white board.

Don’t let the conversation get sidetracked by objections based on cost, lack of technology, tactical limitations, etc. You’ll get into those considerations later in the process. Right now, just let people dream big.

3. Eliminate obvious dead-end ideas, and refine the others to create a baseline strategy.

Somebody suggested tripling the email staff, but you know that will never fly in your current corporate climate. However, the abandoned-cart idea has possibilities. List what you would add, subtract or move around in your budget, your IT capabilities, your workflow, etc., to make it happen.

This process can range from tactical to strategic discussions and then back to tactics to help you further refine what’s possible and eliminate ideas with potential but too many challenges – money, staff, timelines, etc. – to keep on the list.

4. Define each program in your baseline strategy.

Ask these questions as part of your research and refining process:

This process narrows and refines your thinking, making sure that your suggestions are tied to strategies that support company goals, not just something new to try out because it’s a hot trend.

5. Always ask “What don’t we know?” about a strategy or tactic

Before you settle on your final list of strategies and programs, you’re going to bump up against what you don’t know about a program. Going back to the cart-recovery suggestion, you might want to know what success KPIs to consider, how to structure your messaging program, manage content tone, monitor progress, etc.

Designate one attendee to research these and other questions and bring back the information before you decide what goes on your final list. You don’t have to hammer out the final details; just know if you have enough info on hand to justify a request for budget and staff time.

6. Aim to come up with two to three new ideas in your planning session.

Have alternatives in case your main idea gets tossed. Consider creating one major new initiative and two smaller ideas that still address key issues. Focus your energy on the most promising ones, and understand that program improvement is a cumulative process.

If you come up with just one or two new ideas that will make your team a hero in the company – plugging a big resource drain or finding a new revenue source – you will be ahead of the curve. If you plan three years out, you could end up with six new programs in that time. Way to go!

7. Keep your eye on October 1.

That’s a key date on the retail calendar. Not only is it Day One of the last quarter in the calendar year but also the day many companies lock down their retail website plans, allowing no changes after that.

That means you’ll have less than 10 months to get approval, build your new program and test it. If you’re proposing a major overhaul, consider phasing it in rather than trying to launch everything at once.

Lots of Work, But Worth It

As you look over this plan, you’re probably thinking this “planning to plan” phase takes a lot of time. Well, so does making money. If you aren’t willing to invest your time and energy upfront to create a workable plan, what makes you think your initiatives will pay off?

Planning to plan pays off in the long run because you use your team’s time and the company money more efficiently. Want to know more about setting up and running a strategic-planning retreat? Let me know in the comments below.