Well planned and run strategy meetings keep organizations on track. They allow leadership to make the right choices amongst available options, and improves progress made towards chosen priorities. The key strategic questions are addressed. Do we have the right strategic objectives? Are we making progress towards these goals? How can we improve our performance?
At their best, strategy meetings have the potential to generate alignment across the organization through agreed priorities; cross-departmental cooperation through joint problem solving at the meeting; greater transparency and accountability, and clarity over resource allocation.
There are several steps in preparing for and running a best practice strategy planning workshop – with the process starting well before the actual workshop commences.
Goal & Process Setting
Take the time to set clear goals for the strategy workshop, in terms of what it specifically is trying to achieve against existing strategy and corporate purpose. Questions to consider include:
- What is the meeting seeking to achieve (is it a regular annual iteration strategy meeting, re-set of existing strategy, response to specific changes in market condition, new product strategy etc.).
- What is the relevant timeframe it will cover?
- Are all strategic issues on the table, or are there some issues to be left out.
At this stage, it is helpful to bring in relevant leaders in the organization to broadly define objectives and get initial feedback.
Once objectives are defined, work can start on process.
- Set a meeting date and venue. In the current environment, this may mean an online discussion, which will make the right preparation even more important. It can be an effective meeting, but requires attention around maintaining engagement and contribution.
- Identify who should be involved. This might include senior leadership and the right mix of team that are close to process or customers – particularly related to key growth or problem areas. Its important to strike the right balance between keeping meeting numbers reasonable and having the right people in the room.
Meeting preparation is about getting participants the right information and understanding of what will be accomplished on the days, so that they are ready to contribute when they attend.
- Prepare an agenda for the day. Focus on high-value items and leave room for discussion and discovery.
- It is OK to include recommended courses of action, which can be discussed at the workshop for approval or modification. This will promote higher value discussion.
- Include a general rules-of- the-road guide as to how the meeting will be conducted, and encouraging preparation and participation. Plan for a positive and collaborative process, but one in which all the necessary issues are confronted.
- Allow time for information preparation and getting a complete package to all workshop participants early enough for them to digest prior the actual event.
The best way to start the discussion is to reiterate the organizations purpose statement – as strategy has always to be viewed through the lens of purpose. This should precede the mission and vision statements.
State the specific goals of the workshop and review the agenda and any logistics or special roles that participants may have. In doing this, it can be helpful to set-up frameworks for productive discussion, and the ground rules for positive engagement. This might for example include specific time constraints and encouraging participants to come up with left-field idea.
It is key to stay on agenda, and if there has previously been a tendency to go off-agenda at such meetings, identify up-front the typical areas that derail agenda items so they can be called-out if they come up in discussion. It is also essential to avoid diving into operational issues – strategy workshops are for strategy, not operations, so discipline is required around this.
A skilled facilitator will assist with time efficient meeting management, and can take some of the sting out of keeping various parties on the agenda – given their role as a neutral party. Importantly, the facilitator allows organizational leadership to be full participants rather than trying to run the process.
One of the keys to successful meetings is encouraging open discussion, and new ideas, as well as the airing of negative performance issues. There will at times be resistance to this. Challenging issues need to be put on the table, but in the context of contributing to a collaborative problem solving and strategy setting approach.
There are a variety of methods to maintain engagement and focus during the meeting – and this is particularly important if the meeting is conducted online. Appropriately spaced breaks, as well as pulse check stops – summarizing progress and outstanding issues and at time calibrating agenda to make sure meeting aims are kept.
Pull the key findings of the workshop and forward actions into a one page document that can be easily reviewed and used by all participants. The summary notes from the workshop should also be tidied up and sent to all participants, along with the one-page summary. This really needs to occur within two working days of the workshop, to keep momentum and top-of-mind visibility. Participants will have to face their inboxes once back in the office, and offsite workshops can quickly recede from memory, even those with strong findings and where good rapport was achieved.
Set up a process for tracking progress of actions vs schedule, likely using your preferred in-house project management tool. This needs to be extended to organizational leaders who should be championing the process on an ongoing basis. It may make sense to plan iterative global progress checks as part of, say, monthly meeting processes.
Ideally, there will be a process for keeping track of what is working, what is not, and new suggestions – as inputs into the next strategy workshop.
Beyond these direct follow-ups, leadership needs to ensure that the strategy goals are kept top of mind and relevant to day-to-day work. When strategic initiatives directly improve business and organizational outcomes, that builds natural buy in to the process. Clearly and regularly communicating successes will assist in this respect.
Ø Successful strategy planning workshops are planned well in advance and fit within a regular tempo of strategy setting and review.
Ø Aligning strategy with purpose and communicating the goals of the strategy exercise are the starting points of a good process.
Ø Meeting preparation starts well before the event, and aims at communicating the workshops aims, engagement approach and all the necessary information to participants appropriately early before the actual event.
Ø Running a great workshop takes expertise, preparation and focus.
Ø Successful strategy workshops must be followed up promptly, and the linked back to day-t-day activities on a consistent basis.
Corporate Purpose assists organizations define their purpose and implement it. Our experienced advisors assist our clients distil purpose, and then embed it such that purpose, mission and values become shared by all team members. Contact us for a complimentary introductory discussion.