When holding an annual strategic planning meeting, the preparation often overshadows the actual purpose of the meeting. Part of the preparation includes creating the agenda, inviting attendees, sending the agenda out and preparing the venue. However, if the meeting itself doesn't accommodate brainstorming, decision-making and plan creation, it might not produce the innovation and strategic excellence you want. While the venue and organization are important, it is the quality of the face-to-face communication that produces results.
Determine Meeting Goals
Strategies normally cover company expansion, marketing, product lines, competition and financial commitment. Strategic planning meetings that simply rehash the old strategic plan with your management group don't scrutinize the plan for possible improvement. If your goal is to perfect your strategy for the coming year, start the meeting with a SWOT analysis of the current strategy. If you are leading the meeting, be prepared with a list of problems and questions designed to encourage discussion. Bring articles, white papers and video presentations to spark creative thought. Challenge the participants to raise uncomfortable topics. Managers often don't want to be the peg that stands up, for fear of being hammered down.
Create Your Problems List for Further Discussion
A rousing SWOT analysis of the past year's strategic plan and what it produced should result in more points for discussion and resolution. Using a whiteboard to list questions or problems as they arise allows you to keep your discussion organized and on track. As leader, continue to challenge and ask questions. An involved discussion is exactly what you want, but keep control of the discussion and try to lead it to a solution and decision. Breakout sessions can produce innovative solutions, so assign attendees to breakout sessions dealing with individual key topics and have them report conclusions or new ideas when the meeting resumes.
Review Decisions and Confirm
One reason to hold strategic planning meetings on two or more consecutive days is to give attendees time to process the ideas raised. What seems like a good idea might be revealed to be a mistake after a night's sleep. After you have fully discussed the old strategic plan and formulated new ideas, review each point or decision and take a vote. Voting commits the managers in attendance to supporting the decisions. If there is disagreement on one point, consider further discussion on how to modify it so everyone can agree.
Implementation and Follow-Up
Of course, implementation and follow-up makes the difference between a successful meeting and a failure. It is so easy for managers to maintain the status quo when they get back to their departments, that you should aggressively assign responsibilities for implementation. As leader, it is your responsibility to follow up to make sure managers are fully carrying out the strategies and changes developed in your strategic planning meeting. Set benchmarks and progress reviews to evaluate how the strategic plan is benefiting the organization and whether it needs to be revised.
Victoria Duff specializes in entrepreneurial subjects, drawing on her experience as an acclaimed start-up facilitator, venture catalyst and investor relations manager. Since 1995 she has written many articles for e-zines and was a regular columnist for "Digital Coast Reporter" and "Developments Magazine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in public administration from the University of California at Berkeley.