Strategy development is the most creative work leadership teams get to do together; rather it should be. All too often poorly facilitated planning efforts become chaotic or worse, boring. Strategic thinking should be the most fun a leadership team has together, but without the right guidance, it can be viewed as mundane. Learn three ways to create real enthusiasm for your next planning effort.
When I was a young executive leading the Dockers® brand strategic planning effort, I was regularly approached by ambitious folks working in the business asking if I could get them “in the room” for the next strategy session. They believed that this is where all the big decisions were made and where they had the opportunity to influence those decisions. They were interested and excited to be a part of these critical conversations.
Today, “strategic planning” meetings are frequently not very strategic. They are narrowly focused on problem-solving discussions and to incremental thinking: current year goals plus a few years. Rarely are new ideas entertained or new thinking inspired.
When planning efforts fail to stimulate new thinking, participants grow cynical and express frustration with having to dedicate their time to yet another (unproductive and boring) strategy session. They would rather opt out and spend the time planning with their teams or staying put in their office addressing the real issues of the day. To put it mildly, they are unenthusiastic about planning.
How do you create enthusiasm for strategic planning?
- Prepare to shift thinking. At least a month before your planning meeting, engage the session participants in what they believe to be the most critical issue to be discussed at your planning session. Stimulate their thinking by posing future-oriented questions such as: What the trends or realities you believe will impact our future success?
- Design and prepare to facilitate new thinking. Use the insights gained by the pre-session polling to design an agenda that digs into the most common themes and stimulates new thinking. Your agenda should start with a brief discussion of performance against current goals, and then review the themes raised by the group and explore how your thinking should evolve.
- Bring in new content/thought leadership and USE IT. We often see leadership teams invite a speaker to their planning meeting or distribute a popular new book before the meeting and then discuss the book during the meeting. These are efforts to make a planning meeting more interesting, but unfortunately, this stimulation is often not integrated into the agenda design and therefore not fully leveraged in strategy development. If you can’t easily determine how to use a speaker or book content in strategic thinking, skip it. Use the themes from polling participants to find ways to leverage a speaker or a new book to deepen thinking for your planning purposes.
By using these three tips for your next strategy session, you will begin to change the tone of and enthusiasm for dedicating time to planning. Participants want to do planning work, but it must pay off for them.
As professionals, we are acutely aware of the investment our clients make when they engage in strategy development. I don’t mean just the direct cost of paying for the expenses and our fees – I mean the indirect investment made by every participant and the collective investment made to take everyone offline for the two or three days. Make sure your next planning effort stimulates to get the highest payoff for your investment.
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