Stop Dreading Your Next Strategic Planning Session

Creating a safe platform for your next strategic planning session.

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Do you live in dread of your company’s annual strategic planning workshop? It’s probably because your employees don’t trust the process. They know that the same old planning approach is going to be applied, leading to outcomes that are likely to be more or less the same as last year’s.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. —Dwight D. Eisenhower

I’d bet that you’ve spent a fair amount of time stressing over how to get your employees involved in keeping your business strategy fresh, relevant and highly competitive. You’ve likely wondered how one can go about making the planning process not only productive, but also fun, and most importantly, an exercise people care about learning from and acting upon.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to facilitate an executive planning session for a financial institution run by a team of exceptionally bright and assertive women. Believe it or not, the gig was a blast. Also, it was a treat working alongside my good friend, pro climber and speaker, Deshun Deysel— who just happens to feature on the first episode of The Presentation Fix podcast. (And yes, that was a shameless plug.)

Although the ladies I worked with on that project kept me on my toes, my facilitation process ensured a fast-paced, fun and interactive day. In my experience, an enjoyable and successful Strategic Planning Session must encourage team collaboration and engagement. And the number one secret to achieving those aims is creating a safe environment for participants to open up in. Otherwise, it’s pretty much impossible to access the much-needed intelligence one might seek to extract from members of a team— especially the more timid ones.

Happily, after the strategy session was complete the team I worked with responded very well to my facilitation methodology, and told me that it was the first time that they had felt comfortable enough to express their thoughts with such candidness. Kudos to their chief executive who had the courage to confront the challenge of creating a safe environment for her employees to be themselves. Ironically, I’ve found that it’s often the most capable leaders that struggle to suspend judgment and establish the required levels of trust in order to make the most of group strategy sessions.

So, if you’re keen for your team to collaborate on killer business strategy, you need to spend some time thinking about how to create a safe platform which will enable open, yet goal-directed dialogue. And of course, you need to ensure that the facilitator you partner with has the ability to remain neutral, apply a process that eliminates friction and ensure that all your participants (even the most timid) feel comfortable enough to contribute meaningfully.