High Involvement Planning: The Most Looked Forwarded to ALL-TEAM Huddle Of The Year!!!

Last week, the company I started over 25 years ago with a shovel, a truck and some elbow grease held its 12th High Involvement Planning (HIP for short) meeting. I want to tell you that if you are not having these you are missing out on a BIG opportunity.

You did the math, right?

So here is a little history.

It took me about thirteen, exciting but at times exhausting years of feeling stuck and “alone at the top” to figure out the importance of getting my team together like this. It wasn’t that I was against sharing and talking with employees but rather that I as the owner thought it was up to me to do the thinking that was beyond the day to day work being done. I was driven, independent, always doing the urgent rather than the important and truth be told…simply didn’t know any better.

One day while complaining to a good friend about what I, and am sure most owners believe are problems related solely to having employees he asked me what I thought would happen if I slowed my focus on driving sales and max profit for a year and take some time to grow internally before trying to scale. Looking back, even though those we difficult exhausting times I now feel blessed that I was at a high level of burn out and had someone who knew cared enough to suggest I take a step back. Basically he was telling me that the business was running me instead of me running it and as much as I hated in that moment to admit it… he was 100% right. I remember him asking me “are the employees leaving you or are they leaving the business?”  Arggggggg!!!! The cat was out of the bag..

Okay, to make a long story short, I’ll fast forward a year to what I’ll call my next  “wake up” moment…. Reading The Great Game of Business and visiting them in Springfield Missouri to attend their 3 day “Get in the Game” workshop.  I was hooked and said to myself “this is the way I want to run the business. If I can’t do it this way I don’t want to at all.”

Back to the present.

Jack Stack, co-author of The Great Game of Business and arguably the godfather of OpenBook Management calls them High Involvement Planning (HIP) meetings. Ari Weinzweig author of several MUST read books and owner of Zingermans in Ann Arbor Michigan calls them Zingerman’s Annual Planning (ZAP) meetings. I can attest that actually having an AGM, HIP, ZAP or whatever you wish to call yours is far more important than what you call them,,,,,

…because the style of meeting they suggested, that I finally saw for its value, isn’t just a meeting of the management minds behind closed doors. And I was used to running the show without input from…well…anyone.

Annual planning meetings go deep into your company’s operations…and, they include everyone.

That’s right. Everyone.

So, the 2021 Creative Roots High Involvement Annual Planning meeting included every member -18 employees and 4 owners – of the Creative Roots team.


Because I want my entire team to be heard, to feel a part and to think like owners by discussing the same information that actual owners do.

And, I want to hear from the people who are actually out there delivering the services we promise to our customers.

So, every year we dedicate – in the months before our HIP – time to prepare by gathering data, scheduled team discussions, individual surveys, etc before our near end of the season day offsite where we really get into it.

If you’re the founder – or one of the owners – of a company and in the first year(s) of “practicing” this huddle the can be a day of discomfort. It can be a day spent learning about things that went wrong onsite or behind the scenes. If you’ve built a team of problem solvers there will be events that you may or may not want to see in the rearview mirror.

You might hear criticism of your management style, learn about dysfunctional teams, examples of waste that were made up but shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

But, like with anything you practice, the results get better and better. Especially if you’ve created a structured, safe environment and made the desired outcomes clear, everyone will understand that this is an opportunity to look back…

…and then look forward armed with all the information your company needs to put together the coming years strategic plan.

And then you all move forward together…

What are the elements of a good planning meeting?

If you’ve been running your landscaping business day-to-day in survival mode, like I was for years, you might not even have regular staff meetings on your radar, never-mind an all inclusive annual planning meeting.

But every company, no matter the size, should be taking time every year to evaluate the past season and make plans for the season ahead…

Every leader and every team will be different, but here are some of the elements we include in our high involvement planning meetings that keep the ground fertile for engagement and growth.

In a nutshell our HIP meeting exists to:

Create a living, breathing, frequently-referenced financial, non-financial and strategic plan that drives our behaviour in very real and detailed ways for the entire year. The plan is always looked at with our long term Vision in mind. What we do know has to be to get to where we ultimately want to go.

This plan needs to address what’s truly important to our goal to become a GREAT organization

The Goal:

Improve business results and the lives of the people who drive those results. The company is the product and there is always room for improvement.

The Strategy:

By creating a “business of business people” who “plan, share, think, act and feel like owners” we are able tap into everyones inherent desire to win. The financials are a big part of the universal language of business so in oder to communicate and act intelligently we need to be speaking in the same tongue and be fed the same info. 

And with that we set the tone.

All the info, discussion and exercises had are basically to the following…

  1. Where are we are now? History and hard look in the mirror
  2. Where do we want to go? Vision, Values, Purpose, Financial and Non-financial Objectives
  3. What is standing in our way? Economy, People, Facility, Threats and Opportunities
  4. How will we get there? Systems, To-do’s/Action plans
  5. How will we know we are on track? Scoreboards, Huddles, Profit Gain-sharing
  • Around the Room

We ask personal, sometimes odd, questions. Not as an ice-breaker – our team meets at least every week so we’re all pretty comfortable in a room together.

We ask questions that get our team laughing, dreaming, and maybe sharing some things that will help everyone understand what makes them tick…We are intentionally and with care building on the relationships we each rely on to build a better organization.

If you could travel anywhere in the world today, where would you go, and why?

Tell us one thing everyone might not know about you.

I’ve worked with some of these people for over 15 years and, trust me, they still surprise me with their answers.

  • Sales and Cost of Sales Plan – Money In & Money Directly Related to Making those Sales

Every department head – design, build, maintenance – presents their divisions plan for the year ahead and the rest of the room is asked to poke holes in the sales strategies to identify problems, false assumptions, unrealistic expectations, hidden risks and opportunities. Cash, Labor, Facility, Capital, Purchasing, Production, Staffing, Inventory, R&D are all planning items that need to be considered.

Because it’s a safe and respectful space, the dialogue is candid, genuine – sometimes heated – but always informative for everyone in attendance.

And since we spend time on financial literacy -formally and informally – at our weekly huddles all season long, the staff knows how to interpret the numbers and understand the language of business they’re seeing and in return give valuable insight.

By the time our sales plans have been knocked around, everyone…

  • agrees on a sales/revenue plan broken down by division and by month that represents a good solid effort by everyone.
  • understands the role they can play to get there.

After we’ve all had a chance to digest the sales plan presentations and weighed the debate on what it is we feel is doable, we discuss and find agreement on the Cost of Sales. This is an incredibly helpful exercise, especially in the early going with new employees.

It’s easy for anyone who hasn’t been given the right information – and has a reason to care – to lose sight of how choices they make onsite with tools and machinery chip away at our bottom line. If you don’t have a good financial scoreboard, it’s tough to know where you are in the game…

And, it’s easy for employees to imagine owners raking in the money, without realizing the costs that come with running any business. It’s an eye-opener.

I should mention, sometimes my staff come up with ways to save $$ that hadn’t occurred to me…when you’ve been doing things for so long it’s easy for your brain to get stale. Fresh eyes help.

As I once heard someone say…“With every set of hands you get a free brain.”  There is so much human capital stifled and under-utilized in the workplace. This leads to lack of engagement.  That is not something any owner wants.

  • Overhead Plan

I hear that a-lot of Open Book Practitioners do not get into the financials this deep. On one hand I understand why – it takes the extra effort to educate and track these “fixed costs” with your team and your teams effect on them is often very limited.

For example. Can your employees really affect how much rent or utilities the company pays?  Probably not near as much as how much re-work or trips back to the yard for a forgotten tool they take right?

That said and I wouldn’t get into a deep argument for or against, I feel that if you are going to tell a story – and “a companies numbers are simply no more than stories about people,” Jack Stack – you should tell the whole story.  Even if it is in a condensed way like we do it gives us the opportunity to have an efficient discussion in the times someone brings up a comment or question when they are simply trying to see the entire picture.

  • Profit Gain-share Program. What to do with the $$ leftovers

This is one of the most important conversations you can have in the room with everyone present.

If you’ve set realistic, ambitious targets, established ways to achieve them, and you have a team that’s driven, that understands the game plan, there should be something leftover at the end of the year.

I’m not talking about year-end bonuses, though. I’m talking about planned, deliberate and transparent no-risk the company profit gainsharing.

Too many companies suddenly reveal a windfall at the end of their year and hand out cheques at the Christmas party.

Nobody really understands how or why they got them…either everyone gets them, potentially rewarding mediocrity, or they’re handed out according to some random criteria decided behind closed doors.

A chosen few take home a bigger cheque than the others who, apparently, didn’t perform by some mysterious measure. Or, worse yet, by some measure they can’t control…

Either way, you create bitterness and confusion…or worse, a false sense of success.

We end our meeting with an important question.

Is your journey with Creative Roots a wise investment of your time?

Once we’ve spent 6-8 hours in a room together, talked about the culture and finances of our company and arrived at a strategic plan for the coming year, the next question is…

Is your journey with Creative Roots a wise investment of your time?

This might seem like an invitation to quit the team right there. But from my perspective, it’s an invitation to engage. It’s a way to put ones given right to mindfully choose if they want to be part of a team and the “plan.” I and I am sure no-one wants to waste their or anyone else’s valuable time.

In order for our strategic plan – our game plan – to work, everyone has to be onboard. And we’re not just a landscaping company.

We’re a group of people striving to reach our goals – financial and non-financial – and achieve our objective…to help people grow.

If someone gets to the end of that day and doesn’t feel like the goals we’ve set match the effort they want to put into their job, they’re better off speaking up now.

Do you want help building a system of meetings that includes an annual planning huddle? Contact me and we can talk about it. You might think your business is too busy to make time for meetings. But I know from experience, the sooner you put down the shovel the sooner you can get your whole team helping you build a great business.