If you have never been part of a strategic planning meeting, it may sound intimidating. Or you might approach attending one with expectations of battle cries and cannon fire.
If, on the other hand, you have been part of strategic planning meetings in the past, attending yet another may sound like a waste of time or, worse, akin to being cooked in a brazen bull.
It is a sad truth that too few of us have had a positive experience with attending a strategic planning meeting.
In either case, I hope to change your mind.
Strategic planning meetings should never be intimidating or overwhelming. Whether you are a board member, part of the executive leadership, a department director or manager, a supervisor or a front-line worker, you have something to contribute to strategic planning. You have experience and insight into how your job function impacts the company and the client or customer. Sharing that insight in an open, non-threatening environment is critical to helping the organization adapt to a constantly changing world.
If you have had a bad experience or two (or more) with strategic planning, it is likely that the meeting was facilitated either by a leader in the organization (in which case, his or her opinion tended to rule the day, regardless of the discussion or topic at hand), another internal staff member (in which case, again, the executive’s views tended to skew the entire meeting) or an inexperienced outsider.
A professional facilitator is central to a successful strategic planning session. And by “successful,” I mean both productive AND enjoyable. If a strategic planning meeting is stodgy and dull, creativity will suffer.
A professional, experienced, unbiased third-party facilitator is well worth any investment the organization might need to make:
- Consulting ahead of time on the purposes of the meeting, choosing the venue, organizing the agenda items, and developing the activities to include in the session
- Personality management for handling the various characters in the group and minimizing negative, personal conflict
- Ensuring ALL participants actually participate
- Documenting the meeting discussions and decisions
- Providing a follow up report with details of the strategic planning meeting, the decisions taken, the assignments made and the processes for moving forward
I was fortunate that the first several strategic planning meetings I ever attended were well organized and were run by independent facilitators who employed a variety of activities to keep the conversations lively and helped the groups move steadily toward decisions on strategies, objectives, goals and tactics.
So, what does a strategic planning meeting look like?
- Board members
- Executive leadership
- Department directors
- Key managers
- Promising supervisors
- Top performing front-line employees
Other Possible Participants
- Active volunteers
- Vendor representatives
- Leaders from the communities you serve
Objectives of First Session
- Preside values statement
- Clear and compelling mission statement
- 3-5 year vision statement (or internal use)
- Specific goals necessary to fulfill vision
- Basic tactics for reaching goals
- Activity assignments
- Reporting system for establishing accountability
Objectives of Subsequent Sessions
- Reporting of progress
- Evaluation of successes and failures (tactics and goals)
- Revisiting the vision statement
- Considering impact of change factors (political, financial, consumer, cultural, legal, technological, staff, etc.)
- Primer activities and introductions
- Brainstorming (open and individual)
- Games and activities that help participants address issues
- Decision-making that does not favor one opinion over another
- Brain breaks (food, down time, etc.)
- Creativity-promoting games
Personally, I am not a fan of “close your eyes and imagine you are floating in space” type of conceptualizing activities. I do not deny that they work for some personality types. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, the truth is that immediately reframe the conversations to be beyond our comfort zone, and we tune out.
Games and activities should not make anyone feel uncomfortable or put anyone on the spot. They should not be overly complex or too simple. This is where a professional and experienced facilitator comes into play.
Whatever your past experience or lack thereof with strategic planning meetings, don’t give up. A well-run planning session can provide the energy, focus and inspiration leadership and staff alike will draw on for the next year or two when growing and promoting the organization’s mission.
Without naming names, what have been your strategic planning highlights and most disappointing experiences? Please share your comments with me and others below.No Fields Found.