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When you decide to change your routine, you need to be prepared to make do. That can include bending the random into something strategic and on message.

Thus, the photo of the monkey, the cow, and the pig.

Heading to Chicago last week for a first in-person strategy workshop with a new client, I didn’t bring toys. Part of it was saving space. Part of it was being cautious working with a new client on a second-chance engagement and not wanting to start on the wrong foot. Part of it was wedging too many trips and separate client engagements into a seven-day period and neglecting to put toys on my travel checklist.

Dining with our client contact the night before, she mentioned her promise to the company’s CEO that the 1/2-day workshop would involve fun strategic planning. I told her I hadn’t brought any toys along, but that I would visit a store on the walk back to my hotel and buy some toys.

I mean, anything for fun strategic planning!

Fun Strategic Planning and 3 Stuffed Toys

This commitment to our client took me to Walgreens on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I scoured the store for squeeze balls that the executives could safely throw at each other. Finding none, I bought these three stuffed toys, all of which originally had “I Love Chicago” shirts.

The next morning, as we set things up for the strategic planning workshop, I told the clients that each of the stuffed toys had a special purpose that they could call on to guide the workshop:

  • The monkey was for situations where I was moving quickly, and they wanted to spend more time. They could pick up (or throw) the monkey to signal the need to monkey around with ideas a little longer.
  • The bovine was for when we hit a sacred cow issue that needed to be challenged and not simply accepted as imperative.
  • The pig was for wildly innovative ideas that we should consider at future workshops, but were bogging down our progress since, at least right now, these ideas would only happen when pigs fly.

The moral of this little fun strategic planning story?

I didn’t have all those roles figured out when I bought the three stuffed animals. As I was shopping, it occurred to me that they should have some reason for being at the workshop. Using one of our core analogy-finding questions provided the basis to turn these random stuffed toys into a part of a strategic planning workshop.

Those connections were, in this case, part of turning a regular meeting into fun strategic planning. That’s what Brainzooming does! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Do your organization’s strategic planning meetings turn into annual snoozefests?

That happens when strategic planning becomes too complex, gets detached from real business issues, or the whole process focuses on trying to complete cumbersome strategy templates. Then people start dozing off. Later you discover that your strategic planning was more successful at producing ZZZZZZZZZZs than $$$$$$$$$s.

Yes, strategic planning processes are commonly snoozefests, but they needn’t be!

To avoid it, it’s vital to break out of the typical strategic planning process formula where it’s all about the same old people, the same old strategy exercises, and the same old expectations to just get a plan done so it can sit on the shelf with other strategies while the organization keeps doing the same old things.

If you’ve been frustrated in your efforts to challenge the strategic planning status quo, we have good news: There’s hope, and you can change all the bad things about how a boring strategic planning process! There are actually many fun strategic planning ideas that you can start implementing for next year’s planning!

Step one in the process is to download 11 Ideas for Fun Strategic Planning! This eBook has become a go-to guide for thousands of executives globally to explore fun strategic planning ideas. You can use this eBook to enliven strategy meetings through a focus on important business issues, productive strategy exercises, and enough fun to keep EVERYONE engaged in creating a plan that creates success and all those other things that more $$$$$$$$$$s create.

If you don’t have 11 Ideas for Fun Strategic Planning, get your copy today!

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Looking for ways to keep strategic planning advancing before the rest of the company starts to actively think about next year?

If you’re involved in strategic planning, one valuable activity you can be doing right now is scouting out new venues in your community for offsite strategic planning meetings. Hit the web and phone, and then hit several new locations where you can potentially take the team for strategic planning this year. You may be amazed at the impact that fresh surroundings can have on enabling stronger strategic thinking.

5 Things Any Offsite Strategic Planning Venue Must Offer

During your site visits, look for these things to help decide which offsite strategic planning venue makes the most sense to use this year:

#1 Event Planner

Make sure that the event planner at the venue understands what you’re trying to accomplish during your offsite meeting. Invite the event planner into your meeting planning. Ask to see and/or hear about things they’ve done for other companies that might work for your team’s success. If they’re unwilling to engage in this type of exploration, that’s a strong sign you’re not in the right offsite venue for you.

#2 An Environment for Teams to Work

Look for lots of wall and floor space where you can create opportunities for small groups to collaborate, with enough space between them so that noise won’t be an issue. Make sure you can secure much more floor space than they might typically offer for meetings. You want people to be able to move around and not trip over one another.

#3 Flexible Furniture

Look for flexible furniture arrangements. Big conference room tables push people into sitting in familiar places and playing the same roles they usually do in your conference rooms back at the office. Look for modular furniture and a willingness from the venue to move things around so that they’re how you need them.

#4 Options for Multiple Settings

Within one facility, are there options for varied meeting rooms, environments, and team activities? While a facility with only one meeting room can work, it’s fantastic to have multiple settings within a venue to vary things during the one or more days you are there.

#5 Seamless Food Service

Find out about food service. You may think it’s important to be able to bring in your own food and beverages to better manage costs. For us, having to mess with these things the day of a strategic planning workshop is a major distraction from the most important work: breakthrough thinking. If the facility or a partner vendor can remove this distraction, it’s a smart investment.

That’s our typical list of important things we look for in an offsite strategic planning venue. When you can find all these things in one location, you have a winner. – Mike Brown

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Mid-year is that time where you look ahead to the year’s end while simultaneously reviewing this year’s plan and wondering how everything will get done by December 31. That leads to asking, “What would happen if we don’t get everything done? Didn’t we put too many things into the plan, anyway?”

Sound familiar?

5 Areas to Get Stalled Strategic Planning Initiatives Moving

I used to go through this routine repeatedly until I realized that I lacked a standard checklist of project assessment questions to use when a strategic planning initiative is behind schedule. I guess I was recreating the question set every time I needed it.

To spare yourself and everyone around you the hassles involved with not working from a standard set of questions, you can use the following routine this week, and in the years ahead, to standardize your diagnoses and approaches to floundering projects.

Rank the Suspected Causes

The first step is to assess the potential reasons why a strategic planning initiative hasn’t started within the time frame you originally planned. We recommend making a quick assessment. Our approach is to rank potential factors based on which you think are the most-to-least significant in delaying launch. Some typical factors you may consider:

  • The initiative’s importance or fit within the plan is off or no longer relevant
  • The leader and/or team on the initiative isn’t the right one
  • There’s an issue with the structure of the approach the team is taking to the initiative
  • There’s an issue with the size or scope of the initiative
  • Resource availability or levels are a roadblock
  • Some other reason is creating the roadblock

Ranking these factors, 1 through 6, helps prioritize your starting place to address the initiative’s delay. One ground rule: there can be no ties in your ranking. Not EVERY item can be the #1 reason. Force quick priorities so you can begin addressing the important issue as quickly as possible.

After completing the assessment, work through question-based checklists on the most significant factors. These are our starting questions in each category:

#1. The Importance or Strategic Fit Is Off

If changes in the internal or external environment are now calling into question a delayed initiative’s importance, ask:

  • Are there ways to simplify or change the initiative’s direction to increase its relevance?
  • What has changed in the underlying business strategy that impacts the need or interest in moving forward? Will the strategy change back (or again) soon?
  • Are specific reasons for moving forward more important than others? If we focused only on those reasons, how would we adjust the initiative?
  • If we don’t move forward with the initiative this year, what material impact will it have on attaining important goals and objectives?
  • Would we be better to divert focus from this initiative to other initiatives? Would we benefit more from diverting focus from other initiatives to jump start this delayed one?

#2. Leadership or Team Issues

Maybe the leaders or team expected to develop an initiative aren’t the right fit. This scenario prompts a variety of questions:

  • Is the initiative under-staffed? If we put more people on it, what will that change?
  • Does the team have challenges working together? Who, among the team members, needs to change in order to fix those issues?
  • Are there parties critical to developing or launching the initiative who haven’t been included to this point? Will involving them now help address these delays?
  • Are there people whose participation would have an immediate impact on moving forward?
  • If a major change in the team is needed, who from the current team should remain, in order to provide the right degree of continuity?

#3. An Issue with the Approach

In some cases, a struggling initiative makes sense, but delays in getting started are impacting the effectiveness of the original approach. Consider:

  • Is there a smaller effort or pilot related to this initiative that we can use to get progress (and results) going as soon as possible?
  • If there are uncertainties with the approach or the current environment, can we start with a part of the initiative that we could easily change or adapt later?
  • Are there steps we can easily remove (with disproportionately less impact) to streamline the development time?
  • Did we miss the order of steps we identified to launch the initiative? If so, is that fixable?
  • What initiatives have we previously completed that we can repurpose to accelerate progress?
  • Have we exhausted all the leeway in the original schedule? Do we (or can we, even) negotiate for more time?

#4. The Size or Scope Is an Issue

The delay can mean that the original planned initiative is now too big or small for current needs. Ask:

  • What are the areas in which to naturally modify the initiative, so it makes smart, strategic sense?
  • Are there nice-to-haves within the initiative that we can easily eliminate?
  • If the initiative isn’t going to have a big enough impact at this point, what changes do we need to make in order to minimize the gap?

#5. Resource Availability

Another factor that can slow progress is resource mismatches. Scenarios to think about:

  • If we put more money or other resources at this initiative, what type of impact would it generate?
  • Can we couple this initiative with a different, active one, so that they can leverage common resources?
  • What resources can we grab or repurpose from other initiatives and work them into this one?

First Ask, then Answer about Strategic Planning Initiatives

We hope that you’ll find this list of questions helpful in conducting any mid-year initiative reviews you need to do to make sure you deliver the most important aspects of this year’s plan. – Edited from Inside the Executive Suite

Download 10 Questions for Successfully Launching

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I participated in the City Partnership Workshop yesterday at the 2018 Gigabit City Summit. Talking with one city’s representatives about strategies to sell-in a broadband recommendation with voters, they asked whether it is okay to engage its citizens after city leadership develops a recommendation.

My answer?

Engage your audience in collaborative strategic planning earlier than later. If you haven’t engaged them earlier, then do it right now, even if it’s later than what’s ideal.

Aaron Deacon of KC Digital Drive at #GCS18

Here’s the difference between the two options.

If you engage your audience early in the collaborative strategic planning process, you can make a legitimate claim to creating a collaborative vision. You can involve audience members in shaping the vision. You gain insights your leadership group does not possess. You can understand language your audience uses and incorporate it into messaging. Most importantly, you can shape strategies based on integrating audience input during the earliest stages. This opens the door for making strategy creation an experience that many people actively participate in doing versus just learning about after-the-fact.

If you broadly engage your primary audiences AFTER you’ve developed the strategic plan, the nature of the collaboration is very different. It involves more constraints. At that point, you don’t want to create a collaboration environment that needlessly derails solid work leading to the plan recommendation. That means the range of collaboration opportunities narrows. You don’t want to ask extremely open questions that might lead to input that goes beyond the strategy. Instead, you start asking questions about HOW to implement the direction, what might have been MISSED, and what things are CRITICAL FOR SUCCESS. There are other questions you can ask, but once the strategy recommendation is complete, you don’t want to waste time opening doors to non-productive strategy options.

That’s why it’s better to start engaging your audience EARLIER than LATER in collaborative strategic planning, even though later is STILL better than never. – Mike Brown

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The best opportunity to reduce wasted time during strategy planning is BEFORE it starts. That’s why summer is perfect to start simplifying this fall’s strategy development.

To get a head start, download Right Now – 29 Ideas to Speed Up Your Strategic Planning Process Right Now!

It’s a quick read, but filled with ways to remove the wasted, unproductive time in strategy planning. The twenty-nine ideas in Right Now will speed up what is typically a long process and move you through strategic planning more swiftly:

  • 10 Ideas to Speed Up Developing Strategy
  • 5 Things to Do If You Haven’t Started Planning
  • 1 Question to Focus and Speed Up Strategy Meetings
  • 13 Possibilities for a More Efficient and Effective Strategic Planning Process

Getting a head start, before next year’s strategic planning starts, will make it even easier to save your organization tons of valuable time!

Download Your FREE eBook! Right Now! 29 Ideas to Speed Up Strategic Planning

If you’d like help in implementing these steps and using collaborative strategy planning to actively engage your organization and deliver a plan that won’t sit on the shelf, contact us. Let’s figure out the approach that streamlines your strategic planning process most effectively!

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I had a day-long meeting with one of our strategic partners to further develop our inbound marketing strategy. He commented near the meeting’s end that he appreciated that we spent our time collaborating instead of having him put on a show-and-tell for me. As he put it, the meeting allowed him to be himself, for which he was grateful.

He said that he imagined that our meeting was like what a Brainzooming strategy workshop would be like. I told him it definitely was.

8 Principles to Create Collaborative Meetings

Want to create meetings that are more about do and accomplish than about putting on a show?

Here are eight principles we embrace to make that happen:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Let others be themselves.
  3. Don’t make anyone conform to an external standard for the proper behavior in a meeting.
  4. Discuss things that people really understand and know about.
  5. Don’t over-manage the process to the point where the process gets in the way of getting something accomplished.
  6. Trust that if everyone comes in with good intentions and a bias toward results, good things and productive results will transpire.
  7. Use analysis as a platform for places to go, not as a tool to shoot down new thinking.
  8. Accept the unexpected.

Looking to create collaborative meetings?

Embrace these eight principles. They work. We use them in everything we do.

Want even more help to create collaborative meetings? Contact us, and let’s chat about how Brainzooming can help facilitate collaborative, strategic meetings for YOUR organization! – Mike Brown

 

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Create Improved Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategy and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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