When I begin preparing for a strategic planning workshop, I enter another world.
Firstly, there are the characters: The person who introduces me into the company, the CEO, the HR director, and the head of finance, marketing, production and technology. Each has their own personality, dilemmas and frustrations.
I enter a country - known as "Our industry," complete with its own language, challenges and unique 'ways of doing things.' The industry is a battlefield where different players are often engaged in battle for market share. Sometimes, there is peace in the industry, and the main players co-operate against larger enemies who are threatening their industry.
Then, there is the main character - the person I have been hired to help. He is shy and rarely visible. He won't talk to me directly, so I have to get to know him by how others talk and write about him. His issues, dilemmas, strengths, and weaknesses have been documented many times in strategic plans, annual reports, climate surveys, and numerous PowerPoint presentations. Everyone gossips about him - from the leadership team, to middle managers and individual employees. Some love him. Others hate him. But all agree on one thing. He dominates their working world - and without him, they would struggle to pay their bills. His name is "The company."
I am often hired by his family to help "The company." The person who approaches me could be his parent - a global organization worried about their subsidiary. Or his new guardian - a CEO who has been appointed by his parent to help him perform better. Or it could be his kindly sister, who has noticed he is stressed out and needs support.
The first thing I have to establish, is what is troubling him. His problems differ from family to family. He may be grappling with his parent's new marriage to another player in the industry - someone he has never related well to before. He may have new siblings he has to accept. He may find himself under attack from new players in the industry. Or he may find that other players from different industries are winning over the hearts and minds of his market. They have new powerful weapons that are decimating his troops. Or he may have simply lost his way, and no longer sees a future for himself. His guardian, parents and other family members all tell me the same thing. He has lost his direction and power. And until he finds it, everyone else if affected.
My job is to guide "The company" so that he can see his future clearly. And to do this in a way that he has the support of his entire family.
This means that I have to design a journey of discovery for both "The company" and his extended family. One where they will travel through the battle fields of today, meeting every player and every character. From there, they will be tele-ported into a distant future. They will land behind enemy lines. They will spy on their competitors in the field and in the war room. They will see new technological innovations being used in battle. They will meet their own future generals and troops. They will hear about the problems faced by their troops in winning over the hearts and souls of their future markets. They will meet various characters in their markets who will tell them about their problems and struggles.
And in this future world, they will come face to face with the Oracle - an ancient woman who has lived many lives. She will show them a reflection of The company and his family - as it was before the journey, and what it needs to become to survive in this future world. She will then point out the path they need to follow - as they journey into the future world. She will warn them of the trials they can expect along the way, and of the courage and discipline they will need as a united family, during the adventure to their future.
Going on a journey with such a family, means that I have to immerse myself into their world, for however long they want me to travel with them. When my role of a guide is over, I wake up, in familiar surroundings and wonder if it has all been just a dream.