The New Year is fast-approaching and it's the perfect time to establish and set your 2023 business goals and how you plan to reach them next year and beyond. At Merit, we take a dedicated approach to mapping out the future of our business, by setting an all-day annual planning session, which allows us to highlight not only what's essential to us as a company but also to our teams. When we wrap up our planning session, everyone walks away with clear objectives and key results (OKRs), and a sense of ownership.

Using this approach over the years, with refinements based on learnings, of course, we've not only reached our company goals but overall increased retention of our talent. Annual business planning sessions aren’t just for large firms—it’s crucial for all firms, regardless of size. Here are five ways you can make your annual business planning meeting a success and build a business set up for growth.

1. Schedule dedicated time to focus on business planning for the year ahead. One of the most critical elements in business planning for the year ahead is actually scheduling time to work ON the business vs. IN the business. Set aside a date and time (usually a half to a full day) and stick to that. The optimal time is to conduct the meeting in either in November or early January but do what makes the most sense for your business. This year, Merit held our annual planning meeting in October, and it felt great to get it done a little earlier.

Meeting offsite is another way to help the team focus on the matters at hand and not get distracted with daily tasks or regular meetings. Then, plan for quarterly check-ins to track progress. During check-ins, follow the 90/10 rule to stay out of the weeds: spend 90% of the time looking forward and 10% of it looking back.

2. Zoom out on your goals, then zoom in. At the start of your planning meeting, first, identify the overarching company goals, then break those down into achievable steps toward the finish line. For example, if your one-year goal was to recruit a specific number of advisors, what can you do in the next quarter that would contribute to this goal?

Look at goals to reach in the next quarter, all the way out to three years in advance. It’s a mistake to attempt to plan more than three years out—our world is changing rapidly; planning too far ahead may not be the best use of time.

Consider your OKRs—objectives and key results. Objectives are more inspirational and motivational; key results are measurable.

An objective for your firm might be that you want to become the leading financial planning firm in your geographic region, but there's no reasonable way to determine if and when you achieve that. Alternatively, a key result could be that you want five pieces of local press coverage in the next quarter. That’s easy to track—either you achieve it, or you don't.

At Merit, there are company OKRs and team OKRs; everyone contributes to the greater good. An excellent resource for us has been the book Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth by John Doerr.

3. Invest in your people. The best chance of achieving success is by having an incredible team behind you. Investing in your employees will assist you in reaching your goals and make you stand out from the pack. And investing in them does not always mean compensation—it means investing in their overall development and career. For example, every member of the Merit team has a personal development plan, which is based on a series of intentional questions that include:
• What do you like about your job?
• Describe a good day at work you had recently.
• What does your dream job look like?
• Who is someone in the company you want to learn more from?
• Are your skills being utilized to their fullest?

Because we’re a fast-growing company, we’re able to help our team members reach their career goals. Getting the answers to these questions helps us as we hire and onboard new team members, but also build dream jobs for our current staff.

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