By Bennett Fisher
My old CEO coach once told me that you build a high performing team by getting everyone aligned towards a common vision and highly motivated and empowered to meet their goals.
Strategic planning is the first step in making that happen and it can and should be done by all managers at every level!
As I mentioned in a previous post, the idea with strategic planning is it to get your team leads together at least once a year (virtually is fine) to talk through what overall success looks like and what each person needs to do to contribute to it.
Here are some guidelines to follow that will ensure it becomes a killer tool in your management toolkit.
Make sure everyone understands the why
Strategic planning can sound a bit corporate. It’s not.
We used it at my last company when we were 15 people and we used it after we were acquired and had two thousand employees. It’s critically important at all size companies and with all size teams.
That said, it’s important to make sure everyone understands why you are doing strategic planning in the first place.
You do it to get aligned on a common vision and a common strategy. You want everyone on your team to have a common understanding of the game plan.
You do it to drive 100% consensus on the go-forward plan. You want to ensure that everyone feels ownership in what is decided.
And you do it to make sure your team knows that they will be held accountable for what is decided. They need to know that you and they are responsible for executing the plan to success.
You should tell them all of that. And then you should tell them again to make sure it sinks in.
Focus on the appropriate time horizon
There are three general time horizons to consider when doing strategic planning – the short, mid, and long term. Each has a different focus and different starting point:
Long: centers on what’s relevant in 5-10 years. It’s the big picture, top down thinking stuff. The conversation at this level ties into the larger mission and vision of the company, what values in the team are important to overall success, and what the culture is and ultimately should be.
Mid: focuses on what needs to happen over the next 2-3 years for the team to be on a path to long term success. Here, you consider things such as the overall market dynamics and how they are expected to change, what the competitive landscape is and how you are positioned within it, and what key strategies are needed to overcome any obstacles your team may face.
Short: is much more tactical and centered around what you have to specifically accomplish this coming year to achieve your mission. This is typically summarized in goal statements such as MBOs (management by objectives) or OKRs (objectives and key results).
The optimal planning starts with a long-term conversation and works down as that gives the best context for the team to be able to set objectives.
That said, depending on where you sit in the organization, you may spend more or less time in each of these buckets as is relevant to your own team’s planning.
Create a safe zone for all team members
When doing strategic planning, it’s important to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and that everyone feels comfortable sharing their viewpoint.
There are a few ‘rules of engagement’ that you should consider sharing with your team.
Be brutally honest. Say what comes to mind, don’t hold back. Great teams argue well – they question, discuss, and challenge each other. Then, make a decision and move forward with everyone 100% on-board.
Be respectful. Listen, don’t talk over each other. Leave the egos at the door. Try to start with clarifying questions and use facts where you can.
No distractions. Be on time. No cell phones. No computers. Get everyone locked in and you will be pleased with the output.
If you set the right guideposts at the start, the quality of your session will high and you’ll get to a good place quickly.
Set an agenda and stick to it
Whether it’s just an afternoon meeting or a multi-day offsite, its good practice to set and share an agenda with everyone attending.
Don’t forget to include some team bonding time – could be a team happy hour, dinner, golf, whatever – that is one of the most important byproducts of this entire exercise!
For reference, below is the agenda from my last company's 2016 strategic planning offsite that we did in September of 2015:
Agenda (day 1)
10:30 Agenda, Meeting “Rules” & Objectives
11:00 Big Picture: Mission & Vision
11:30 Retro 2017: What need to accomplish?
1:00 Retro 2017: What are our key obstacles?
3:15 Retro 2017: Key strategies to achieve goals?
4:00 BREAK FOR DEMO
5:30 FREE TIME
7:00 DRINKS & LOBSTER DINNER
Agenda (day 2)
9:00 2015 Corporate MBOs H2 Tweaking
10:45 2016 Corporate MBOs
1:00 2016 Corporate MBOs (Continued)
3:15 2016 Corporate MBOs (Continued)
5:30 FREE TIME
7:00 DRINKS & DINNER
Agenda (day 3)
9:00 Our Organizational Structure
10:45 Our Culture
11:30 Summary, Next Steps, Key Action Items
12:30 Golf (1:14 & 1:22 tee times)
As you can see, we started with long term items like mission and vision, worked our way into the mid terms topics like key obstacles and strategies, and finished with next years objectives.
Strategic planning doesn't have to be complicated and can be done by any manager. If you provide the appropriate context and make the team feel comfortable in developing and owning the plan, it will become one of your most powerful tools and set you up for success the rest of the year!