The Biggest Mistake You’ve Already Made Next Year (and How Rise Above Consulting Can Help)


Authored by Gavin Heverly

Do you have a Strategic Plan for your business for next year? If not, now is the time to get started. Because next year is about to happen to you whether you are ready or not. Heading into Q4 is the time to put in effort to be prepared and make next year your best ever.

In climbing, planning is critical to success, whether you’re on an expedition to a remote mountain, researching your approach, or handling pitches and rappel stations on a trad route. As climbers we understand that pausing to do the upfront work of planning out the moves on a sport climb, or looking at a competition boulder problem with intention and figuring out the beta before an attempt, dramatically increases the likelihood of success and, importantly, reduces risk.

We leverage all kinds of tools throughout these preparations in order to maximize the likelihood of summiting: mountain project and beta videos on the internet, books, trip reports, conversations with friends, and anything else we can get our hands on. We spend hours training in the gym, sometimes even setting replica climbs to be best prepared for the nuances of the challenge ahead. Whatever the approach to planning out your climb, very few of us are just winging it when we know we are going to be on the sharp end and onsighting something with real consequences. We make sure we have the right training, the right tools and the best plan possible.

In our professional lives in the climbing gym industry, why don’t we apply the same level of enthusiasm for setting ourselves (and our colleagues) up for the best chance at success? At Rise Above Consulting, I’ve spent years helping teams in the industry to develop a low-lift strategic planning process that does just that.

Running climbing gyms, like climbing itself, is complicated and can be a healthy mixture of fun and horrifying. I mean that in the best way. I’ve been operating gyms for over two decades. I know what it’s like to wake up every day attempting to onsight all the challenges that come with running gyms: staff, customer service, cash flow, route setting, and on and on. With all of the constantly competing priorities and needs, how do you keep everything organized? How do you achieve your goals and focus on the most important stuff? And how do you keep an entire company aligned through it all?

You have to have a plan, and it needs to be a good one.

So, what makes a good plan?

It’s collaborative, it’s adaptable, and the whole team is aligned to its outcomes.

Rise Above leading a strategic planning session
Rise Above Consulting in action leading a large team through an annual strategic planning process.


Collaborative strategic planning means the plan is co-created and built by a diverse team from various parts of the organization. Stakeholders from marketing, sales, operations, front lines, finance, programming, etc., should all be included in the process of identifying organizational goals and how to achieve them. The fact is: you don’t have all the info. No one person does. Therefore, a collaborative process including multiple perspectives and robust conversation is the best practice for building a holistic plan for success. Buy-in and alignment to a plan is one of the most critical (and trickiest) things to achieve in any planning process. A great way to reduce obstacles to this teamwork is to have team members build the plan themselves. Collective group effort creates immediate ownership over a plan and its outcomes, which drives accountability.


Whatever your plan, the likelihood of it being 100% right is pretty slim. There are almost neverending permutations of X factors which can affect your plan: market conditions, the economy, consumer behavior, staffing problems, and more. As such, the team’s plan and the people managing and executing it have to be willing and able to adapt. Without the ability to be agile, a company will not be able to respond appropriately to inbound inputs and stimulus, which can equal chaos and manifest in a multitude of real problems for you and your colleagues. The best way to achieve this adaptability:

  1. Ensure the plan and priorities that drive it are transparent to the company, and ensure that you and your coworkers are reviewing and revising the plan on a regular basis.
  2. The plan has to be a living document that coincides with a series of meetings designed to drive accountability and surface changing requirements and roadblocks early and often.
A strategic framework leading up to the organization imperative
An example of a framework where the team’s work and projects build up to the objectives, key results and “imperatives” of the company. Creating this through-line ladder from the day-to-day to the most important stuff is key to driving alignment.


A plan without buy-in is nearly impossible to execute. A plan where only a few leaders at the top have the context and understanding of the “why” is likely to fail. JFK famously visited NASA in the late 60s when the USA was in a race to get to the moon. When the president asked the guy mopping the floors what his job was, he replied, “To put a man on the moon, sir!” That’s what alignment looks like. Everyone, regardless of their title or job function, understands what the goals of the organization are and how their day-to-day work connects to it. You can achieve this alignment by:

  1. Including the right people in the planning process.
  2. Making the goals of the organization, the why and the how clear and transparent to everyone. AND I MEAN EVERYONE. This transparency drives accountability to deliver at the highest level of the organization, builds trust, and helps everyone understand the context behind which priorities matter most and why.
  3. Regularly reviewing the plan company-wide. Go over results to date, and revisit how things may need to change.
A workflow toward for a strategic plan and follow-up
An example of a workflow and meeting cadence that creates buy-in and involves regular check-ins on your strategic plan to identify early and often if you are on track or off track.

Strategic planning is a highvalue way to level up your success and align everyone toward the collective goals of the company. Much like climbing, building and executing on a plan takes upfront effort to maximize the likelihood of success. And if you’ve ever completed a long climbing project, you know how much that planning was worth the effort. Just like in climbing, all of the time and energy you put into planning your company’s strategy can pay off. I’ve seen strategic planning result in:

  • 46% less time spent on planning and meetings.
  • Successfully navigating a post-2020 economy to return a business to profitability in record time.
  • Increased gym membership base by ~3X, achieving the best sales months ever in company history.
  • Improved employee morale.
  • And more.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are what some clients have had to say about implementing strategic planning to help grow success with their climbing gym businesses:

“Gavin has a unique ability to align stakeholders so that realistic goals can be identified and obtained through effective prioritization. In addition to leading teams to these results, he is able to develop resources within the client team so that they can continue to forge ahead long after the engagement is over.”

“Gavin brought extensive knowledge about, decades of experience in, and a tangible passion for the climbing industry to the table during the time our team spent with him. His leadership and guidance over the course of two intensive sessions spent defining company core values and an annual strategic plan inspired pivotal internal structural changes that we were able to implement quickly. These changes, combined with tools and strategy for setting relevant goals and tracking success in a measurable, data-driven way, have put us on a cleaner trajectory toward success moving forward. The rapidly growing climbing industry is fortunate to have such a passionate human, climber, and seasoned executive at our disposal to help bring longterm vision into greater alignment with actionable, measurable steps toward reality.”

Want to learn more? Join Rise Above Consulting and CBJ for a seminar on Strategic Planning on September 21st at 10:45am MST.

Make Next Year Your Best Ever - Webinar

About the Author

Gavin HeverlyGavin Heverly is an avid climber and mountain rescue technician with 25+ years of experience in the climbing gym and outdoor industries. He has spent most of his life pursuing his passion for growth, climbing, fitness and adventure. This journey has allowed him to apply a unique set of skills and experiences in leadership, operations, the development of teams, and scaling culture and strategy to a variety of real-world challenges and opportunities. When not working with clients or training for his next mountain adventure, he is hanging with his dog listening to loud music and eating vegan doughnuts.


This story was paid for by the sponsor and does not necessarily represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.

Vertical Solutions
Previous articleClimb Insider: Koper and a few things for managers
Next article21 New Climbing Products and Services for Fall 2023
Rise Above Consulting partners with passionate business owners and entrepreneurs to overcome operational and cultural challenges so they can scale success and drive high-performing culture. My people-centric approach has driven personalized value connection, engagement and meaningful results to individuals, teams and organizations. Fundamentally, I believe in connecting with the end user to best understand and evaluate their needs. I’ve impacted a multitude of business metrics by believing that culture = values + behavior and that you can operationalize organizational values to drive an unparalleled experience for your customer and team. My passion for unleashing the potential of every team member by allowing them to bring their best to work every day creates high-performing culture and delivers business results.