Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

It’s Planning Time

It’s November — time to plan 2012. Successful small businesses are successful partly because they engage in planning. Businesses need to know certain things — who your customers are is a good place to start — and they need to plan for all the good and bad that might befall them in the new year.

We started planning in our company in 1996. It has become a ritual that now involves about a dozen people but, in the first year, it was just my wife, Fran, and me.

One of the keys to a successful planning session is its location. The right answer is anywhere but your office. Planning needs to be done outside the normal environment. There should be a minimum number of distractions. I even had one meeting at a hotel in the mountains where there was no cell service. The only distraction was people looking to see if any bars had miraculously appeared on their phones.

Vermont is full of great sites for a planning meeting, and a bonus is that November is during the soft season for hotel and resort business, so the cost of the meeting can be controlled. We have held our meetings at Killington and at resort hotels in Stowe. The service is great, the staff of these hotels is ready to please, and without a crowd, they have more time for you.

In our early years, I always started out with two questions: What do we do well? What do we do poorly? It gave us an opportunity to plan a strategy to improve the things we did not do so well and it gave us an chance to strengthen ourselves in areas where we did do well.

Since the number of people who attend our meetings is now up to about 15, I have found a need for a theme. Sometimes the theme is about a business topic, like the time we decided to reintroduce the basics: “Ready, aim, fire.” At others, it is about the economic situation. For our 2011 meeting, I would consider the theme “Flat” to personify how I and many others perceive the economy for the next several months. I would deal with ways to stay profitable during a downturn and how to gain market share.

There are elements I consider essential for a successful planning meeting:

• It should last more than one day. When only Fran and I did our planning meetings, we broke it into three parts: our personal plans, plans for our charitable and volunteer work, and a plan for our company.

• Several years of financial results should be available in whatever form works best for you — charts and graphs if you find that best, or just the raw numbers if that is more your style. This will help to project future performance.

• Be totally honest with yourself. There are no excuses at a planning meeting, only solutions to problems. If an area needs to be improved upon, do not look for a reason for the failure; look for the solution to the problem.

• Leave time for some recreation. There is nothing more refreshing than a walk in the woods, a swim, or relaxing in a hot tub after a tense session.

• Be disciplined and have an agenda. Just because you are in a beautiful setting like Stowe, there is no reason to stop halfway through or fail to complete the job at hand.

• Pat yourself on the back for the things you do well and vow to continue in the future.

• Write your conclusions on a sheet of paper and refer to it often during the year.

As with many recommendations, there must be things I have missed or that work particularly well for you that you might incorporate in the process. Do it. The important thing is to get on with the planning process and be successful. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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