The Planning Retreat

Cary F. McGovern Comments
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One minute of planning saves 10 minutes of doing. In a time of short-term profits and a desire for immediate results, we struggle with this notion. If you have begun a records-storage business or are on the cusp of launching one, consider a facilitated focus retreat.

In the development of any project, we should step back from time to time to see if it is indeed what we intended. Although most experienced business executives develop a business plan and create a pro forma for their new ventures, few develop benchmarks and reassessment points to determine if they are on course.

In general, business owners have discovered the importance of reality checking. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned, particularly when it comes to start-ups. In last month’s column, I discussed the concept and use of the “road map,” which guides the process or business plan through to its completion. Let’s say, for example, we decide to go on a trip. We’ll call this plan “The Road to California.”

We need to understand several things before we set out. Why we are going? How can we get there? What is our budget? What is our timeline? And what do we want to achieve? Once we know these things, we can set our plan in motion.

Let’s say, during the course of executing this plan, we are driving west and forget to refer to the road map. We make a wrong turn at Albuquerque and end up off our course. But we like New Mexico, stay for a while and get distracted. Now we are late and off the original mark, but mesmerized by the process. Eventually, we find six months has passed!

We have a couple of options now. We can go back to my original plan, or we can continue down this other path. We know what lies ahead in California, because we already have a plan. We do not know the outcome of staying in New Mexico, an unscheduled and unplanned detour. Perhaps there are other roads of which we do not yet know. What do we do?

Facilitated Focus Retreat

Business owners and corporate executives have discovered a process that works. The story about being distracted in New Mexico is an analogy representing a common problem for all businesses. Staying on course is important, but knowing when you are off course is more so. It is only then you can begin to correct the problem.

I have found the single largest problem faced by new start-ups in commercial records management is being driven off course and not recognizing it. Many have invested significant capital and resources in the development of their new businesses but get mired in the details. They may be heads-down and busy but are moving in circles rather than to a destination. The problem is, they have lost sight of what the destination is. Confusion reigns, operations and sales are disjointed, and owners are unfocused.

How do we recognize and fix the problem? One approach that has worked for decades is a retreat, defined in the dictionary as, “a period of group withdrawal for meditation, study and instruction under a director.” Let’s look at this description a little more closely:

  • “A period of group withdrawal”—A brief time taken away from mundane day-to-day activities for a group of people who have similar goals.
  • “For meditation, study and instruction”—This is a thoughtful time, where thinking is important, a method of study is employed and some instruction is performed.
  • “Under a director”—It requires an outside facilitator to cut through the garbage and keep the group on track.

The retreat begins with understanding where we are in the business now—not where we think we are, but where we really are. Next, we move on to understanding what we want, followed by where we want to be—in what time frame and at what cost. The next step is setting realistic short-term goals and understanding what resources we need to achieve them (capital, people, processes, technology, management, etc.). Finally, we agree on our focus, business approach, operating plan and selling strategy.

These retreat sessions should be attended by records-management investors, general managers, operations managers and sales staff. Most find the exercise to be profound. It is best done either immediately before the initial planning process or six months into the project. Some mature records centers host retreats annually. They are usually held over a Friday and Saturday, and the results are astounding. Confusion and ambiguity becomes concise and focused plans.

Oblio and Arrow

Harry Nilsson, a popular singer from the 1970s, wrote and performed a song called “Me and My Arrow.” That song was later made into an award-winning feature film narrated by Ringo Starr. The film tells the story of a man named Oblio, which goes like this:

Oblio lives in the Land of Point with his family and his dog, Arrow. He is different than everyone else because he has a round head; everyone else’s head is pointed. Oblio’s family is embarrassed and the leaders of the land banish him. His first adventure is to go through the pointed forest. When he arrives on the other side, the first person he encounters is the “pointed man,” who is covered in arrows that point in every direction. Oblio and Arrow agree, this makes the man pointless!

I show people this scene in my training sessions. The “point” is, if we have too many focuses, we are actually unclear. The pointed man is the embodiment of the company that wants to be all things to all people. He is doomed to failure. In records management, a facilitated focus retreat can help us stick to our plan and reach our projected goals.

Regular columnist Cary McGovern, CRM, is the principal of FileMan Records Management, which offers full-service records-management assistance for commercial records storage startups, marketing assistance, and sales training in commercial records-management operations. For assistance in feasibility determination, operational implementation or marketing support, call 877.FILEMAN; e-mail fileman@fileman.com; www.fileman.com.

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