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Strategic planning made easy! 3 top tips.

Strategic planning written on a background of cogs
It’s strategic planning time for many organizations!  As always we’ve been helping a number of clients with their strategic planning process.  We’ve heard from many clients that our approach is a ‘breath of fresh air’, and that we ‘take the pain out of it’.  
I believe that is largely because we leverage our approach to people and learning in the way we run strategic planning processes. We approach strategic planning the same way we plan learning sessions with a focus on energy and participation.  I was asked by a recent client to share my top 3 tips for how to make the strategic planning process easier.  I can probably think of many more (and feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss approaches!) but here are the tips I shared with them. 

1. Upweight the input and limit the table

You want multiple varied perspectives when  you develop a strategic plan, but we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that all those people need to be around the table.    The more diverse the views, the better your overall plan will be, but too many voices can make it challenging to get alignment.  It’s possible, but often not within the time frames clients have (e.g. we can get everyone together for a day and a half).   Our view is if you can’t get oodles of time for people to get together,  get oodles of input instead.   Spend the energy up front on interviews, focus groups and surveys to get diverse perspectives, but then limit the group who will build the plan.   I like 6-8 but recognize that is a hard number to get down to, so aim for 10 people or less! 

2.  Design for diversity of thinking. 

Different people think differently.   I’ve worked with lots of teams that can get around a table and brainstorm on the spot, but that is far from everyone’s preference. For the best outcome, develop your process and activities to appeal to different ways of thinking.  Provide input and materials up front,  include group discussions and small group activities to help people participate fully.  Include creative activities that help people to think differently and come up with new ideas.  Provide space for reflection within the sessions you run, and let people ‘sleep on it’.   A good plan is not built in a day, but in pieces with time in between to ponder and reflect. 

3.  Summarize often and be repetitive on themes 

We often get feedback about how good (clear and quick) we are at synthesizing the conversation and pulling out themes.   I’d love to say that was magic!   Essentially it’s about facilitation and listening skills.  It can be hard to contribute and facilitate at the same time, especially for something as complex as strategy.  Using a separate facility can help  but if you cant, or don’t want to, then make sure you stop often and recap.   Strategic planning conversations can wander all over the place, using the visual tools (wipe boards, flip charts, post its)  can help track a conversation.   Taking regular breaks to review those visual notes and coalesce themes helps keep the conversation focussed. Being repetitive on the emerging themes ensures ongoing alignment of the group so you continue to build, not revisit topics. 

So those were my ‘off the top of my head’ tips!   We’ve helped many organizations determine their mission, vision, values, and strategic plan.  We also run a strategic planning program called Align, aimed at small businesses that want a practical strategic plan.   Think we can help you or want to get more tips to help you running your strategic planning session? Get in touch 

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