Dec 14 2008

Half the Benefit is in the Preparation

Half the Benefit is in the Preparation

This past week, we had what has become an annual tradition for us – a two-day Board meeting that’s Board and senior management (usually offsite, not this year to keep costs down) and geared to recapping the prior year and planning out 2009 together.  Since we are now two companies, we did two of them back-to-back, one for Authentic Response and the other for Return Path.

It’s a little exhausting to do these meetings, and it’s exhausting to attend them, but they’re well worth it.  The intensity of the sessions, discussion, and even social time in between meetings is great for everyone to get on the same page and remember what’s working, what’s not, and what the world around us looks like as we dive off the high dive for another year.

The most exhausting part is probably the preparation for the meetings.  We probably send out over 400 pages of material in advance – binders, tabs, the works.  It’s the only eco-unfriendly Board packet of the year.  It feels like the old days in management consulting.  It takes days of intense preparation — meetings, spreadsheets, powerpoints, occasionally even some soul searching — to get the books right.  And then, once those are out (the week before the meeting), we spend almost as much time getting the presentations down for the actual meeting, since presenting 400 pages of material that people have already read is completely useless.

By the end of the meetings, we’re in good shape for the next year.  But before the meetings have even started, we’ve gotten a huge percentage of the benefit out of the process.  Pulling materials together is one thing, but figuring out how to craft the overall story (then each piece of it in 10-15 minutes or less) for a semi-external audience is something entirely different.  That’s where the rubber meets the road and where good executives are able to step back; remember what the core drivers and critical success factors are; separate the laundry list of tactics from the kernel that includes strategy, development of competitive advantage, and value creation; and then articulate it quickly, crisply, and convincingly. 

I’m incredibly proud of how both management teams drove the process this year – and I’m charged up for a great 2009 (economy be damned!).