It’s an exciting time of year for us. Yes, we are all excited about college football, kids returning to school, and pumpkin spice everything. We are really excited though because it is our strategic planning season.

I want to be clear that we view strategic planning as a long-term endeavor. Our current plan to be Top of Mind in the State of Michigan was created and implemented in 2015. That said, each year we want to make sure we take one step forward towards achievement of our longer-term Top of Mind strategic plan. In order to do that we annually engage in a disciplined top-down and bottom-up planning process. It’s top-down because it involves the strategic thinking of our Executive Council and bottom-up because it also involves the thoughts from every teammate in our company.

Our season starts in early August when I and the rest of the Executive Council – Dan Rinzema, Chief Client Officer, Tom Drews, Chief Operating Officer, and Jim Gray, Chief Strategy Officer – go offsite for a few days to focus only on the strategic growth of Greenleaf Trust. All aspects of our company are reviewed and we return with our thoughts on continuous improvement and growth for the upcoming year.

We then send out our Strategic Planning Questionnaire to everyone in the company in late August. The goal of the questionnaire is to get every teammates’ feedback and thoughts on how we can improve our service to clients, improve their Greenleaf work experience, and ultimately take one more step forward to being top of mind. Participation in the survey is typically high because through their experiences in the process they know their input is heard and matters. They also know that candor is expected and safe because I am the only one to read their responses. Themes develop from their responses. I then take these themes and merge them with the Executive Council’s thoughts to create strategic initiatives for the upcoming year.

Then in early September, I share the strategic initiatives with the Executive Leadership Team that consists of all division leaders for them to develop their divisional plans with their teams. Plans are focused on the strategic initiatives and provide another opportunity for teammates to express their thoughts and contribute.

We then get together at our Advance (It’s called an Advance and not a Retreat because we are moving forward not backwards). Our Advance is an annual three-day meeting in October involving our entire Executive Leadership Team. Candor is again essential. The purpose of the Advance is to share and discuss divisional strategic plans for the upcoming year. Divisional plans are scrutinized and challenged by each leader’s peers in an effort to create a cohesive organizational plan. Once an organizational plan is constructed, we build our budget around it and share it with the entire company in early November. The plan is documented for everyone and reviewed for progress throughout the year at our Up Periscope meetings.

Our planning process is purposeful and works for us. We can trace almost every tangible improvement made at Greenleaf Trust over the years to this process. As we are in the midst of this planning season, we can’t help but look forward to next season which will start in January as we begin construction of our next long-term strategic plan.