Planning Palooza

Oct 11, 2023
Kate Walton

Hello from Steyer, where we are heads down, planning for next year.

This is a process that starts in September, with our finance team crunching the actuals: what we spent this year on our business infrastructure, plus the basic economics of our client engagements—average bill rates, average pay rates, average billable hours, average “burden” (shorthand for the average per capita cost of benefits and payroll taxes).


Then, the mad alchemy begins: what do we imagine will be the same next year? (Perennial spoiler: very little!) What parts of our operations must change to meet the moment? What parts of our operations must endure, lest we cease to be who we are?

This stage of the process takes the whole month of October and includes the entire back office coming together for a multi-day working session we call Planning Palooza. If all goes well, we arrive at Thanksgiving with a financial model that projects the next year’s revenues and details the associated costs. We call this model The Crystal Ball. It remains a draft through the end of the year—so that we can bake into it any new developments, positive or negative . But after the first full workweek in January, we declare the goal posts fixed, and we begin anew to measure ourselves against them—no matter what twists and turns Reality delivers.

Since Workings is all about bringing you behind the scenes, I’ll close by sharing two things that make planning season fraught and one thing that nevertheless fills me with confidence:

Fraughtness factors:

1. Planning involves a lot of numbers...but the impact of planning is always on people. Practicing transparency without fueling unnecessary anxiety is always a difficult balance, and no leader I admire ever stops worrying about how best to walk that fine line.

2. I’m haunted (literally HAUNTED) by Ezra Klein’s mic drop of an observation that, “There is no more profound human bias than the expectation that tomorrow will be like today.” The planning process we’ve refined over so many years has always served us well, but are the changes we’re facing this year so different that we have to re-think everything?!

Offsetting the Unsettling Fraughtness of It All is something that I have learned is both one thing and, well, everything:
Good partners. Leading the charge at Planning Palooza this year, as was the case last year, will be our CSO Tony Batista and our COO Katelyn Reilly. For many years now, Katelyn and Tony have managed to “land the plane” somewhere in the zone of 90-105% of plan; as I tell them every year, this requires wise forecasting and expert execution. Moreover, they’ve achieved this track record while keeping our vision and OPs front and center. I’m grateful to them—and to everyone on our team—every day, and I can’t imagine being in better company as we all find our way forward.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. This newsletter goes to a lot of language enthusiasts, so I’ll acknowledge that spellcheck does not like “fraughtness” any more than you do. Feel free to send alternatives, but please keep in mind: your suggestions need to capture that gut-flipping level of unease that I’ve come to believe is part of the journey for any thinking person, no matter how confident.

Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash