About the Alliance
Leadership Matters Blog
LEAD. GROW. INSPIRE.
In this article, we'll delve into the art of crafting an excellent strategic planning meeting. I'll share insights on turning mundane sessions into dynamic forums, where ideas flourish and goals align. Get ready to elevate your planning game!
Get the most out of a strategic planning meeting.No one gets off the hook when it comes to strategic planning. Whether you’re the leader of a for-profit business, a nonprofit, a government agency or any other type of organization, strategizing for the future comes with the job. Failing to do so can leave you vulnerable to competitors or flat-footed when changes hit your industry, the economy or the world in general.
There are many ways to go about strategic planning, and obviously much depends on what type of organization you work for, but there’s one common factor to the process: At some point, you’ve got to have a meeting. And to get the most out of a strategic planning meeting, it can’t be an impromptu affair. The more you prepare, and the more organized the proceedings, the greater the likelihood you’ll walk away with consensus and a solid action plan.
Craft an engaging agenda.Arguably, the most important part of a strategic planning meeting happens before anyone settles into a boardroom chair or fires up a videoconferencing app. That part is crafting the agenda. And the word “crafting” is key there. Like the recipe for a really good beer or bar of chocolate, your agenda should be a carefully curated list of ingredients that, when executed during the meeting, will result in an engaging, positive experience for everyone involved.
To achieve this, you’ll typically need to gather input from other members of the leadership team. If only one person dictates the terms of a strategic planning meeting, the interest and engagement levels of other attendees will likely be limited. Start planning the agenda as early as possible. Consider using a survey to gauge which aspects of your strategic plan are most critical to discuss in depth. Although doing so may sound funny, you might even want to hold a “pre-meeting meeting” to iron out the agenda.
Think of each agenda item as either a statement or a question. Statements will simply be critical information that you or another attendee needs to share. Examples might include “Here are our annual sales numbers,” or “These are the results of this consultant’s study.”
Questions need to be as specific as possible and related to the objectives of your strategic plan. You can usually spark insightful conversation by asking things such as:
• How were we able to accomplish this objective?
• Why are we struggling to accomplish this one?
• Would doing ___ enable us to gain more ground on this objective?
Generally, strategic planning meetings aren’t the ideal place for extended brainstorming. That’s an activity better suited for an organizational retreat or separate “committee-type” meetings. This doesn’t mean you should discourage attendees from sharing ideas, but you want to keep the discussion focused on the stated items.
A couple more important points about the agenda:
1. Identify who will be leading the discussion for each item; unless yours is a very small organization, ask a different person to handle each item so the meeting has a variety of voices and personalities.
2. Allocate a specific amount of time to each item; at some point, attendees’ attention will inevitably start to wander, so you want the periods to be relatively short and equal.
A strategic planning meeting is an event, not unlike a concert or variety show. As such, the meeting needs to move along at a crisp pace. Even if your agenda clearly specifies a time limit for each discussion topic, don’t be surprised if the conversation starts to go off on tangents that threaten to exceed the allotted time.
Assuming you’re the one moderating the meeting, step in as necessary to redirect the discussion or even shut it down so you can move along. Naturally, doing so will entail some decisiveness and diplomacy. Always give attendees the option of sharing additional thoughts and ideas in an email (or some other appropriate way) after the meeting.
Then again, you may also encounter the opposite problem. An agenda item is brought up and the response is... crickets. In this case, you or the item’s presenter should have a short list of backup questions designed to spur conversation if necessary. Alternatively, you could move the meeting along with the knowledge that one of the other agenda items could get more discussion time.
Finally, when it comes to meeting moderation, consider outsourcing. There are consultants who specialize in running strategic planning meetings. One of these individuals can bring specialized expertise and experience to the proceedings, enabling you and your fellow leaders to focus on the content of the meeting rather than the more performative aspects of it. Naturally, you’ll need to vet an outside moderator carefully and weigh the value versus the cost. That said, I’ve heard over and over again that having an outside facilitator can be worth every penny and the value exceeds the cost.
Put in the work.If you and your leadership team are exceptionally busy (and who isn’t?), scheduling a strategic planning meeting may be difficult—and dedicating the time and energy to preparing for one is even more difficult. Yet, as mentioned, this is a critical activity for every organization. By putting the work in, you’ll get much more out of it.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.