young woman with colleagues in the background

(This article was originally written by Morgan Browning for

Annual planning is only worth doing if you carry out the plan and achieve your goals. Each year we measure our performance against the strategic plan we formed the previous January, and our good results are a strong affirmation of our ability to set, plan, and execute our company goals.

It is also apparent that our annual planning exercise is only one key piece to the broader puzzle.

A year is a long time, so it’s very challenging to not only project where you would like to be 12 months from now, but also to map out the way, stick with the plan, and actually get there. We have found a way to achieve this that is rooted in our employees’ natural modes of thought and behavior. It honors their preferences and builds morale, trust, and ownership along the way.

We start with the knowledge that each employee contains a preference in at least one of four different thinking attributes: Conceptual (Yellow), Social (Red), Structural (Green), and Analytical (Blue). The Conceptual part of our brain takes ideas and runs with them; it likes to be imaginative, inventive, and visionary. The Social mind is intuitive about people and likes to feel connection with others. Structural thinking covers details and a desire to complete tasks; it is practical and dependable. Finally, the Analytical part of the brain is all about value; it is logical and objective.

Essentially, we take the wealth of brainpower at our disposal and specifically apply it to the essential phases of plan execution: ideas, assessment, and “stick-to-itiveness.” This is actualized by strategically placed, themed meetings throughout the year.

We begin the year with our annual planning meeting, which we call the Yellow (Conceptual) Meeting. We bring in our entire staff from around the country and ask them to come ready to tap into their Conceptual minds for at least a day. The point is to make it fun and create a space for the free flow of ideas. We do visioning exercises by asking everyone where they see the company in one year and five years; what do they want the company to be; and how do they want to get there? Our managers harness the ideas and information and actually incorporate it into our current year’s goals and processes.

Doing it this way empowers our team members with a strong sense of ownership in the future of the company. And of course, we end up with hundreds of good ideas.

We set the goals at the Yellow Meeting, but it’s our weekly Green (Structural) Meetings that help us stay the course. These meetings are the backbone of our organization; we talk nuts and bolts–deadlines, processes, and logistics. This structure ensures that we never veer far from the established plan. Problems are easily identified and quickly corrected.

Occurring mid-way through the year, our Blue (Analytical) Meeting is where we exercise our company’s collective rational mind. We look back on the first half of the year and assess what went right and wrong; and we look ahead and consider whether our goals were realistic or need tweaking.

We have about one Red (Social) Meeting a month, too. That usually takes the form of a social gathering or an office volunteer day; quality time together away from the office. How does that play into annual planning? It’s just another important component of our workplace culture, and even the best-laid plans are doomed without that.

By tapping into the collective brain preferences of our employees, we ensure a positive, productive, and collaborative effort for annual planning and execution throughout the year.

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