Tips to Improve the Success of Your Strategic Planning Sessions

The three words strategic planning off-site provoke reactions anywhere from sheer exuberance to ducking for cover. In many organizations, retreats have a bad reputation because stepping in to one of the many planning pitfalls is so easy.

Holding effective meetings can be tough, and if you add a lot of brainpower mixed with personal agendas, you can have a recipe for disaster. That’s why so many strategic planning meetings are unsuccessful. The following tips focus on guaranteed ways to ruin your next meeting and what to do to avoid them in advance.

Beware of annual planning retreats

Huh? Is this section about holding strategic planning meetings off-site? Yes, it is. But one common thought process in strategic planning is that you have to hold a retreat. Setting aside a couple days in an off-site location where everyone gathers in sweatshirts and jeans and drinks cocoa is a typical vision of a strategic planning meeting. Oftentimes, a retreat is an annual event, and all strategic decision making is reserved for that occasion.

Strategic management should be a habit, not an event. Hold your strategy meetings regularly (more than once a year) to realize enhanced performance. With that said, annual retreats are okay, but make sure they’re not your only meetings of the year.

Be prepared for the planning meeting

Picture this: You pick a date or series of dates for your strategic planning meetings, and the next thing you know, it’s the day before the meeting. You get so caught up in the day-to-day operations that you don’t have time to think strategically about your business. And thinking strategically is necessary in order to set up your strategic planning meeting effectively.

If you neglect to conduct external and internal research before the meeting, you get into your session and realize you don’t have the information you need in order to make sound strategic decisions. The only way to have a solid strategy is to incorporate information about your external environment and your internal operations.

Some research is better than none. So if you find yourself in a pinch the day before or the day of the meeting, do what you can to get data about your customers’ needs, your competitors’ actions, and your employees’ opinions. You need the right information in order to feel confident in your strategic decision making.

Deal with distractions before the planning meeting

If any key staff member is upset or has an outstanding problem, your strategic planning meeting may be disrupted. That person may sit in the meeting like a brooding elephant and finally blow his top and get the meeting off course.

The best way to handle staff concerns is to have a one-on-one discussion with every person who’s attending the strategic planning session. Give your employee the opportunity to voice issues or concerns privately. Make sure that you clarify that your intent is to clear up any problems that may inhibit full participation during the strategy session.

Don’t forget to explain the planning process

A good facilitator explains the strategic planning process and the expected outcome of the meeting from the get-go. Most people think they know how to develop a strategic plan, but that doesn’t mean they truly can.

Naturally, you don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, but take the time to review the different terms used in strategic planning and each step of the process. By making sure that everyone starts on the same page, you eliminate any confusion that may derail your meeting.

Don’t rush the planning meeting agenda

Strategic thinking is hard work. It takes a lot of mental energy to pull all the pieces of the puzzle together, see the future, make strategic decisions, and organize the plan usefully. At every strategic planning meeting, people are mentally exhausted by the end. Getting through the agenda is usually what it takes to have a completed plan. However, sometimes getting it all done just isn’t possible. Focus on the outcomes instead of the exact agenda.

However, do have an agenda so everyone knows the structure of the day, but don’t be so rigid that you stick to it no matter what. Remember to loosen up, have some fun, and take breaks. If you don’t get through everything, plan another meeting or assign tasks for the outstanding items.

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