Strategic Planning Retreat Facilitation that Works

Strategic Planning Retreat Facilitation that Works
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Strategic Planning Retreat Facilitation
When you invest the time, energy, and money in strategic planning retreat facilitation, you want to be sure that your investment pays off.  The stakes are high for strategy retreats; people need clear, compelling, and meaningful results that collectively move the needle.

Strategic Planning Retreats Often Underdeliver
According to Harvard Business Review, companies, on average, only deliver sixty-three percent of the financial performance that they promised.  Most executives ascribed the failure to meet strategic expectations on poor strategic planning and execution. And based upon data from our leadership simulation assessments, many leaders struggle with core strategic leadership skills.

Even though well-run strategy retreats can help senior teams to get aligned and create high performance, too many executives have been part of strategy sessions that were not based in reality, did not create strategic clarity, pushed the company in the wrong direction, did not truly align the leadership team on the most critical issues, or did not have the desired business impact.

Not Just Another Meeting
Recognize at the outset that your strategy retreat is not just another executive leadership team meeting.  Strategy retreats are broad in scope and implication.  Leaders need to not only peer into the future and take a big picture view, but they also need to be grounded in the reality of the current market conditions, corporate culture, and talent capabilities of their people.

Tips to Get Strategy Retreat Facilitation Right
Strategy retreat facilitation success is largely dependent upon preparation, expectation setting, and planning.

  • Have Clear Meeting Ownership
    The first step to getting strategy retreat facilitation right is to be clear about who owns the meeting. Most often the CEO or a team leader owns the design, planning, and outcomes of a strategic offsite.  Be wary if the CEO or team leader delegates the design of the meeting to a subordinate.

    At a minimum, make sure that the CEO or team leader fully understands and approves of the design, their role, and most importantly — the desired outcomes. It surprises us how often agendas are put together to fill time slots versus achieve strategic objectives.

  • Define Meaningful Objectives and a Practical Scope
    A few months before the strategic offsite, the leadership team should agree upon the scope and the desired outcomes that you want from the meeting. Be crystal clear about whether the leadership team needs to discuss far-reaching strategic options of the entire company, make vital decisions for specific areas, or both.

    Also make sure to agree upon the strategic timeframe — One year?  Three years?  Five to ten years?  Remember, not everything can be tackled in a one- or two-day strategy retreat.Strategies are about difficult choices.  Be very clear about what is and is not in scope to keep people focused on what matters most.

  • Identify Who Should Participate
    Once you agree upon the objectives and scope, you are ready to define who should participate in the meeting and the role that each person should play before, during, and after the meeting. In general, the more you actively involve those who will be responsible for leading and executing the strategy from the onset, the better your chances of successfully implementing your strategic plan.

    Active employee involvement in strategic planning can and should occur before, during, and after the meeting.

  • Prepare to Succeed
    Since strategy is about making choices about the best way to win in your unique marketplace, accurate customer, competitor, and employee data about your circumstances will help ensure that conversations are informed at the right level. Whenever possible conduct interviews and surveys to ensure a solid SWOT analysis to set the proper context for strategic decision making.

    Once you have gathered enough feedback, design and utilize prework to ensure that meeting participants have a common baseline for the current situation, complications, implications, and objectives.  It will help you to hit the ground running with a common context.

  • Think Nemawashi
    In Japanese, Nemawashi is the process of informally and quietly laying the foundation for proposed changes or initiatives by actively involving key stakeholders and gathering support and feedback before any formal meeting. If your strategy needs the commitment and support of your executive team, then Nemawashi is a no-brainer.

    Make sure that you identify and work with those who have interest in and influence over the success of your strategic plan before you walk in the room.  Nemawashi plus prework will also provide you the opportunity to sort out any issues prior to the session so that valuable time together will not be wasted.

  • Design a Structured Process
    Once the objectives, scope, and participants are clear, it is time to design a process and an agenda to make it happen. Each block of time should be spelled out in terms of objectives and who will lead the discussion — the facilitator, the CEO, or a subject matter expert.  As eager as you may be to drive toward outcomes, keep in mind that the quality of the discussion matters; you should strive for genuine engagement and commitment.

    This means creating enough psychological team safety while avoiding harmful workplace politics, not allowing individuals to dominate, filtering out irrelevant and burdensome data, and focusing on pertinent issues.  As much as it is important to have healthy debate, the facilitator must work to keep on track, identify barriers to success, and define implementable action plans.

  • Agree Upon Next Steps
    Each participant should emerge from the offsite with a clear action plan that assigns goals and accountabilities, roles, responsibilities, timelines, and success metrics. The next steps should include follow-up mechanisms to measure and communicate progress, create accountability, and make the necessary adjustments.

While remote strategy retreats were surprisingly effective during COVID, recent research by Microsoft found that in-person sessions generate 14% more ideas and are 18% more creative.  So whenever possible, think about holding your strategy retreats and project kickoffs in person.

The Bottom Line
Most teams schedule annual strategy retreats.  Are yours getting the results that you desire?  You will know you are headed in the right direction when your key stakeholders believe that your strategic plan is believable, winnable, and implementable within your unique marketplace and workplace culture.

To learn more about strategic planning retreat facilitation that works, download Should You Facilitate Your Own Strategy Retreat?  What to Consider.

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