Make no mistake; done correctly, the annual planning process is a valuable event that accelerates growth and strengthens alignment.

Leaves are changing and executives are huddling in the boardroom.  The annual corporate planning process has begun.  For some it’s a time to plan scaling and growth activities. For others, it’s a desperate cry for “better” and “faster” with no substantive changes.  Too many times it’s the latter. Many executives see this time-honored tradition as an unproductive, perfunctory exercise.  But make no mistake; done correctly, the annual planning process is a valuable event that accelerates growth and strengthens alignment.


So how do these top companies execute on their annual planning process?


The best companies use an Interlocked Operating Plan. 


Download our Interlocked Operating Plan Checklist to ensure your Annual Planning Session isn’t an expensive exercise in futility.


Book the Studio


What is an Interlocked Operating Plan?


An interlocked operating plan focuses on the core objectives involving multiple departments.  There is clear responsibility for each department’s accountabilities.  These allow the entire organization to stay in sync throughout the year.  Marketing is targeting prospects that sales plans to close the following quarter.  The product team works with customer support to determine new product features and bug fixes on the roadmap.  They prioritize them based on complaints.  The organization becomes just that – a series of parts interacting to achieve a common goal.


Without this coordination, you have the “traditional” annual plan.  Siloed projects are assigned based on a functional leader’s whims.  Dependent actions in other departments go unnoticed.  Projects are abandoned and delayed. By June the company returns to the status quo and hopes for a hot market.


What Does a Great Interlocked Marketing Plan Consist Of?


There are three main components:


  1. Executive Summary of the Current State:  This should summarize the current state of the company, and be driven by the CEO.  It should include:


    • Summary of the current state of the market, customer, and competitors
    • The company performance against the past year’s goals
    • Departmental performance against last year’s goals
    • Specific areas of outstanding performance
    • Opportunities for improvement
    • The Goal for the next year


  2. Interlocked Opportunity Summary:  This section describes the core thrusts of the organization to hit the goal in the coming year.  It includes:


    • Leading Indicators Needed to Achieve the Goal
    • Big Project(s) selected to achieve these goals
    • A high-level timeline of key tasks and owners for each project
    • Departments responsibilities and accountabilities for each of the big requirements
    • KPIs and Leading indicators within each function that will be monitored


  3. Departmental Execution Plans: These are the departmental execution plans to achieve the goal and execute on the big projects.  This plan should include:


    • Overall goals and objectives for the new year
    • The department’s responsibilities for executing the big projects
    • Other projects within the department not requiring coordination
    • The tactical activities, timelines and owners for each of these projects


How Do You Build an Interlocked Operating Plan?


An interlocked operating plan is not built in a day-long meeting.  It is three events, one for each section.  Work is performed outside of three separate meetings.  Download our Interlocked Operating Plan Checklist to ensure you are executing on them correctly.


Let’s review each section of the Interlocking Plan in detail:


Executive Summary of the Current State

This should be honest assessment about the company’s performance against last years goals.  What has worked?  What has stalled? How has the market changed since the original plan was produced?   To conduct a meeting like this, transparency and candor is required from each functional leader.  They will create a graphical presentation lasting 30 minutes. Qualitative statements should be backed up with verifiable data.   Following every leader’s presentation, there be a clear understanding of what has transpired in the organization.   The CEO goes first.


One sales executive last year celebrated a fantastic renewal rate, due to a new customer success team.  He also owned up to a failed new product launch goal, and described the root causes.  Total transparency.


Interlocked Company Strategy

After the current state session, a separate strategy session should be held.  This is where the CEO takes all of the information, and communicates his big bets to the C-Suite.


It should be determined using:


  • Market research on the current state of the industry, markets, and competition
  • Customer insights generated sales, support, and other frontline functions
  • Product developments within the organization


These are the critical intra-departmental tasks that require the coordination of a ballerina.  One of our clients had a critical product launch in Q2 that would make or break their year. Each step of the process was clearly spelled out.  The Product Department had to release specifications and business value drivers early in the year.  Marketing created lists of potential customers and campaigns to generate excitement.  Sales enablement created materials and packaged them into customer facing collateral to ensure opportunity continuity.  Sales established clear product goals for every compensation package.  They also planned a training event two weeks before the go-live date.  This tight coordination led to a successful product launch that helped the company hit their goal.


Departmental Execution Plans

These are the tasks created within the department to ensure they are executing on each of big priorities for the year.  They are mapped out with clear owners (people), dates, any dependencies, and other requirements.  By conducting a detailed project plan for the entire year, the department will understand whether they have the resources (time, money, or people) to successfully execute.  This will drive their asks and budget.


In one interlocking project plan, we worked with a product team with big product goal.  Understanding that sales understanding was critical, they re-allocated some of their people and budget towards creating collateral.  This reallocation wouldn’t have occurred if sales didn’t realize they didn’t have the resources. It also helped product pitch in with some excess capacity.


It’s time to begin.  Download our Interlocked Operating Plan Checklist to ensure your Annual Planning Session isn’t an expensive exercise in futility.



Additional Resources


Download the SBI App for all SBI Content, on the go.


New call-to-action