STRATEGY PLANNING PROCESS
Plan your strategy workshop
By Ruth Tearle
Many strategic planning processes involve some type of strategy workshop held outside of the office. But many of these workshops become nothing more than talk shops, or time out of the office - rather than a critical part of a strategy formulation process.
For a strategic planning workshop to deliver the benefits you want from your strategy planning process, you need to plan before you plan. The more effort you invest in planning your strategy workshop, the more likely it is that your workshop will be successful. Here are some questions you may like to ask yourself (or your team) prior to briefing your strategy consultant.
1. What benefits do we want to achieve?
1.1 What end result do we expect from the workshop?
Take the time to plan strategically
for your strategic planning workshop.
- A full strategic plan we can give to our board of directors?
- A common vision to which everyone is committed?
- A vision or set of goals?
- Specific action plans to achieve our goals and vision?
- A few creative ideas regarding new opportunities for our business?
1.2 What content benefits do we want to achieve?
Content benefits result from doing comprehensive strategic analyses: of your stakeholders, the external environment, your industry, your competitors and your business and then creatively developing a focused and comprehensive vision. Content benefits could include:
- A clear competitive advantage.
- A clear common vision.
- A clear focus on a few priorities (80/20 principle).
- A framework within which future decisions can be made.
- A clear focus on your future target markets.
- Identification of new opportunities from changes in our external environment.
- An identification of our core strengths. Knowing what makes us unique and different from our competitors.
- Creation of new products, services & solutions.
- Creative, ‘out of the box’ thinking.
- A change of mind-set or paradigms.
1.3 What people benefits do you want to achieve?
You can get a number of additional ‘people’ or ‘team’ benefits through the way you design your workshop. For example the way you select delegates, mix smaller groups, encourage participation, work with group dynamics and design workshop activities could result in the following benefits:
- A feeling by a team that they have been involved in creating their own futures.
- Ownership and excitement around the strategic plan as a result of the way in which you chose to involve people in developing the plan.
- Everyone involved is on the same page. They all understand the strategy and what it means, in the same way.
- Cross learning between people from different functions.
- Synergies between different areas.
- Breaking down ‘silo’s between different functional or regional areas or between your organization and a parent company or alliance partner.
- Building of teams. Creating a team identity through the creation of a common vision or dream about the future.
- Reducing conflict.
- Greater creative out of the box thinking? (The more diversity in your teams, and the more you mix teams, the greater the creativity.)
- Positive energy. (This results from the energy of the participants, the style of the facilitator, and what is actually achieved during the workshop.)
- Commitment. (The greater the participation during the workshop, the greater the ownership and commitment – and the easier the implementation!)
2. What factors could prevent us from achieving the benefits we want out of our strategy workshop?
There are often issues within the organization that have the potential to sabotage your strategy workshop. Examples include:
- Inappropriate timing.
- An impending merger or takeover.
- Impending structural changes.
- Impending retrenchments.
- Stress, or conflict within the top team.
- A key player who is about to resign from the organization.
- A key player who is due for retirement but doesn't want to retire.
- A lack of knowledge in the organization regarding new trends that are changing the rules for being successful in your industry.
It is important to identify and deal with issues like these before you hold your workshop. Otherwise you will find that delegates will insist on using the time together (at your workshop) to debate these issues! This will take valuable time away from working on the goals you wanted to achieve. Should you urgently need to develop your strategic plan before you are able to deal with these issues, talk to your facilitator about them up front. Then together agree on new goals for the workshop which include solving some of these issues.
When is the best time to hold our workshop? Consider the following factors:
- Deadlines – do you need to submit your strategic plan to the board by a certain date?
- Choose a time when issues that could sabotage your workshop will have been dealt with.
- Choose a time that helps strategic implementation. You want your team to have the space to begin implementing your strategy immediately after the workshop - so that they remain excited and committed to the strategy. Avoid doing a strategy workshop just before a major holiday period, or before a busy operational period.
- The best consultants get booked up months in advance. So book ahead to ensure the availability of the consultant you want to work with.
4. What are the success criteria for your workshop?
Ask the key stakeholders of your strategy workshop, the following questions:
- If we were to have the most successful strategy workshop ever, what would make it so special?
- Therefore, what are the success criteria for our workshop?
- Think of the worst strategy workshop you have ever attended. What made it so frustrating?
- Think of the best strategy workshop you have ever experienced. What make it successful?
- What should we do to ensure that our workshop is successful?
Then consider their answers when you begin designing your workshop, or briefing a consultant.
5. Who should attend?
Your choice of delegates can affect both the group dynamics of the workshop, as well as the level of commitment to your final strategy. So consider carefully whom you choose to invite as delegates. (See the related article on "How to select delegates for a strategic planning workshop.")
How should we group our delegates into teams to help us achieve the process benefits we want? (When in doubt go for diversity. But ensure this is something you discuss this with your facilitator.)
The venue you choose for your workshop, and how you arrange the room, sends a message to delegates about how important the workshop is, how much you value them and what you expect from them during the workshop. It also either helps you, or prevents you from achieving the people and process benefits you wanted in point 1 above.
If you are looking for participation and creative thinking choose a venue that:
- Promotes a feeling of informal relaxation. The ideal venue is away from the office and has space for groups to work both indoors and outdoors. Ideally it should be in a 'natural' environment.
- Has good natural lighting.
- Has good conditioning – especially in summer.
- Has 3-5 round or square tables arranged for small group work in a cafe style.
- Is spacious. People can move around easily between the tables.
- Is quiet with no distractions.
- Provides food that suits your delegates’ dietary requirements. (In a cross cultural environment, this is more important to group dynamics than you can imagine!)
- Sends a message to participants that they are valued by the organization.
8. Choosing the facilitator.
- What requirements must our facilitator meet?
- Who can best help you to achieve the content and people benefits you want to achieve?
There is a shortage of strategy facilitators who are able to help you achieve both your content and people benefits. So book them well in advance.
9. Briefing your facilitator
- What information will the facilitator need to know about our business, to design an effective workshop?
- What documents contain that information?
- Who will be responsible for briefing our chosen facilitator?
Typically an external facilitator will need information about your organization/industry and about the participants of the workshop.
9.1 Organizational information.
Background information from annual reports, pamphlets, web sites, marketing material or research helps the consultant to customize the workshop to suit your organization. Anything that provides answers to the following questions would be useful:
- What industry are you in?
- What products and services do you sell? What solutions do you offer?
- How do your customers use these products/services?
- Who are your customers or target markets?
- Who are your competitors?
- How has/is the industry changing?
- What issues are your organization or your industry facing right now?
- What technology are you using now? How is it helping you achieve a competitive advantage?
- What new technologies are affecting your business?
- What challenges/issues are you currently facing?
9.2 Information about the participants.
- Who will attend the workshop?
- How many delegates will be attending?
- What are the delegates expecting from the workshop?
- What could affect the group dynamics at the workshop? E.g. describe any conflict that occurs between individuals or between different groups.
10. Research strategic trends that could change the rules for being successful in your industry.
Do your own research, or buy research on the latest strategic trends that could impact on your organization in the future. Strategic trends help a team to see the need to do things differently. They are also used during a strategy workshop to stimulate creative thinking about new opportunities for your organization. You or your team will need to research trends in the following areas:
- Political trends.
- Economic trends.
- Social trends.
- Technological trends.
- Business trends.
- Trends in your own industry.
You can also use make use of the latest strategic trend research. These are arranged in the form of online trend cards, and can be used before and during your strategy workshop.
Planning to run an effective strategy workshop takes time, and effort. The reason we put the effort in, is because a powerful strategy implemented well, helps to ensure the future success of any organization
Successful organizations create jobs and wealth for employees, customers and stakeholders. So if you want to make a great impact on your organization, the future careers and well being of your employees, your customers and your stakeholders - take the time to plan strategically for your strategic planning workshop.
Failing to plan for your strategy workshop results in:
A well planned strategy workshop results in a powerful strategy that people want to implement.
- Talk-shops that produce no strategic plans or weak strategies.
- Strategies without buy-in or support - that are unlikely to be implemented.
- Your organization not being prepared for the future - which in turn could result in losing customers, money and jobs.
As leaders, we have a duty to our staff, our customers and our organization to do whatever it takes to ensure that we prepare our organizations so it can be successful in the future. For that we need to do powerful strategic planning.
You may also like:
- Resources for organizational strategyA library of practical articles, guides and tools on organizational strategy.
- Resources for team strategyA library of practical articles, guides and tools for doing strategy at a team level.
- A step-by-step guide to developing a strategic plan.A step-by-step guide to strategic planning. Use it to develop a strategic plan that you would be proud to present to your board of directors. Or use it to develop a common vision to guide your organization.
Choose your membership plan now.