Strategic Planning | The Brainzooming Group - Part 3 – page 3
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One of our clients recently conducted their own internal interviews to get a sense of what their employees thought about their current situation, future opportunities, and persistent challenges as an input into the strategic planning process. During the interviews, a standard theme from the participants was to share their comments EXACTLY as they stated them. Our client made the commitment to do so.

While that commitment translated into capturing and typing up exacting notes with their specific words, conveying what participants want to communicate during the strategic planning process is a little more complicated than that.

6 Keys for Conveying What Participants Want to Communicate

via ShutterStock

When it comes to conveying exactly what participants wants to communicate, there are multiple steps involved. These are some of the things we suggested to honor the team’s request for faithfully reporting their comments:

  1. Ask questions that allow individuals to express their own thinking instead of having to conform their language to how the strategic planner describes things.
  2. Make a concerted effort to capture the exact language participants used if they are not directly capturing their own language.
  3. If there is a gap between what they say and what they mean, don’t hesitate to fill in the white space so the final reporting is as representative as possible of their big messages.
  4. Do not hesitate to insert your own comments to focus reader attention on the most important messages.
  5. Develop a vocabulary list of common language the organization uses, and default to words and phrases from the list as you recap the interviews and work on subsequent deliverables.
  6. Identify themes among individual interviews and responses, featuring the most descriptive language people used to represent the significant issues the organization faces.

As with a lot of things in business and life, being faithful to what participants want to communicate during a strategic planning process can involve extra steps to adjust things and make sure it happens. We’ve taken these types of steps for years and have had clients consistently say, “That’s exactly what we meant, except you said it even better!” – 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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Someone downloaded a free Brainzooming strategy eBook, noting his biggest strategy challenge is “how to do a strategic planning process when you are new.” That question relates to something we do all the time: walk into a new client in an unfamiliar industry to design and facilitate a strategic planning process.

While leading strategy development in a new company poses challenges (including needing to learn a tremendous amount as you go), it has a comparable number of advantages (Including not laboring under preconceived ideas about how the organization does things).

via Shutterstock

In that type of situation, we recommend using strong strategic thinking questions and frameworks to quickly understand the situation, the players, and the opportunities. This is vital (from our experience) for ensuring your newness yields more advantages than challenges.

Additionally, here are four areas we recommend exploring right away (and 12 resources to support your work):

Identify what has been done previously

Secure copies of previous plans and strategy documents, and don’t settle for the first things people offer you. Keep digging via different angles and types of requests. What you see as strategic may not be what others think is strategic. Ask about what has and has not worked during previous strategic planning initiatives. You want to be sure to find out what things most often lead to successful implementation. Finally, as you compile strategy documents, review them thoroughly to glean all the value they provide.

Getting to What Is Strategic

Determine the important players

Review the organization chart and identify the major players from a formal standpoint. That’s your first look. Then start probing informally for who the important players will be in strategic planning. That’s not to say the people on the org chart AREN’T important. There are like people outside the top-level organization charts with ideas, insights, pieces of the puzzle, and important answers for getting you up to speed very quickly.

Tracking Down the Expertise You Need

What’s it like?

Go hard and fast to understand the company, customers, industry, and competitors, along with all the other things important for the early internal and external fact base supporting the strategic planning process. These are the basics where you must quickly develop a working knowledge and a good command of the facts. As a new strategic planner, you can quickly gain advantage by bringing intriguing comparisons to the table. Finding analogous situations to help create new perspectives helps you stay ahead of the game in introducing new thinking. The more pertinent analogies you can employ, the more you showcase how fresh perspectives are bringing value to the strategic planning process.

Making Great Comparisons

What’s ahead?

It would not be a surprise if many (most?) of the people you will reach out to for strategic planning participation will be focused on day-to-day business activities. While they may want to look toward the future, near-term responsibilities can routinely derail those aspirations. As the strategic planning person, you are in a prime position to focus on what is coming – whether expected or unexpected. Be on the lookout for individuals who spend considerable time thinking about trends, future developments, and their implications.

Looking Further Out from Here

That may not be everything, but it’s a solid start to run a strategic planning process as if you have years of experience where you are! – 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 you dread strategy meetings?

Really, we’re among friends, so you can be completely truthful in your answer: Do you REALLY, REALLY DREAD strategy meetings?

Of course, you dread them. Every executive dreads strategic planning. I know I do.

The reason is while it is important for organizations, participants hardly ever see the connection between participation and positive changes for brands and customers.

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Not Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

While a strategic planning process may promise to deliver real objectives and tactics, it often never happens as promised. Senior executives may say they want disruptive ideas, but they really want ideas that are easy to grasp and fit the current system. And who wants to waste precious time on trying to imagine and plan things an organization should pursue but ultimately never will?

That is why wrapping strategy meetings in creative thinking exercises and the appropriate amount of fun and diversion is optimum.

80 Fun Strategic Planning Activities and Ideas!

We’ve been facilitating fun strategic planning activities for years.

Across our client engagements, here are links to 80 activities and ideas for making strategy more fun!

Even though fun strategy meetings seem elusive, we routinely make them productive, enjoyable, and fun for the organizations, senior executives, and teams with which we work. Enjoy this dive into our most successful approaches.

If you would like to go even deeper, contact us, and let’s talk about how we can bring a fun approach to strategy into your organization! – Mike Brown

 

fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make a Strategic Planning Process More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

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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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“I’ve known those guys for years, and they smiled all the way through a strategic planning process. That’s when I knew I wanted to meet you guys.”

That’s what the CEO of a nearly-$1 billion, employee-owned company said to us at our first meeting. We facilitate the strategic planning process for his organization’s largest business unit in 2016. Currently, we’re helping develop and implement one of its strategic initiatives.

The CEO wanted to discuss how we can help him with the strategic planning process across the corporation. The idea is that we’ll work with him to develop a strategic direction and then create a corporate strategic plan with his direct reports. Following that, we’ll work with each business unit on its own collaborative strategic plan.

Now, this is still a work in progress. In fact, we’re in the process of putting together the scope of work. But I wanted to share this endorsement while it was still fresh. We don’t share many of the accolades we receive, because our focus is on you and information that helps you, not news about us.

Keeping It All Smiles

I am sharing this one because it’s the kind of endorsement I particularly enjoy.

We strive to make any strategic planning process engaging, fun, and completely smile-worthy. In other words, everything strategic planning usually is not! Receiving this validation from the corporation’s CEO meant the world to me because getting people to smile during something that most people hate is a big part of why we do what we do.

Want to see this happen in your organization? If you’re ready to create your best strategic plan yet, in a shorter time than you’re used to, in a way that’s fun, engaging, and makes people smile, get in touch today. We have all kinds of ideas and proven methods to make it happen for you! – Mike Brown

 

fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make a Strategic Planning Process More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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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Connect your plan to your business with Brainzooming.com.

These are just a few of the ways your strategic planning process can produce a plan that is disconnected from your organization. When that happens, you wind up with a strategic plan that sits on the shelves of your employees, as they go back to doing what they were doing before you interrupted their daily fire fighting with a strategic planning process.

Your strategic planning process does not have to fall into this trap. It’s avoidable if you do the right types of planning for planning and then eagerly, actively, and honestly engage all the appropriate parts of your organization in contributing to the strategies you develop.

If you are concerned about your organization’s strategy being disconnected from important aspects of your organization, contact us, and let’s talk about how to make strategic planning productive and integral to running your company in the year’s ahead.

In the interim, here are multiple articles to start going deeper into creating a well-connected strategic plan:

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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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“Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas keeping executives focused on strategic priorities during strategic planning meetings. If your team wanders away from the important strategic topic, here’s a strategy to address it:

3 Ways to Keep Strategic Priorities Front and Center with Executives via Inside the Executive Suite

An executive reported a real-time challenge: keeping the senior team at her company focused on strategic priorities. Depending on the number of executives, or the positions of those prone to overly-detailed discussions, making sure a senior team does not get caught in the weeds during strategy meetings can be a touchy proposition.

We suspect it’s an issue familiar to many organizations. We find it typical that at least one or two individuals in any senior group are comfortable sticking to more detail than you would expect them to embrace. These may be individuals who are responsible for specific areas (and perhaps have been so throughout their careers) and/or ones with personalities oriented toward greater-than-average detail.

Keeping Strategic Priorities Front and Center

Do you struggle keeping senior-level strategy discussions at the appropriate level? If so, try these techniques we’ve employed over the years to focus meetings on strategic priorities that legitimately deserve executive suite attention.

1. Identify Where Everyone Stands Up Front

We are major proponents for meeting with executives before important strategy discussions. Whether through in-person interviews or some type of online input, it is helpful to know which executives are thinking what, and what issues resonate most strongly with them. Pre-meetings provide a sense of areas in which individuals may take the group into unnecessary detail. Questions to explore up front include:

  • What are the most important issues to address?
  • Where do you suspect strategy discussions could potentially derail?
  • What factors are important for determining the right strategy?
  • What topics do you feel most strongly about addressing in the meeting?

Based on participants’ answers, you will develop an early indication of the areas in which a meeting could go into the weeds. You will also have a sense of the major strategic themes to use in anchoring meeting conversations. Also, look for the senior leaders most likely to keep things out of the weeds. Talk with them beforehand, asking for their assistance to voice concerns if a particular leader or discussion becomes stuck in tactical matters.

2. Implement a Structure that Emphasizes Discussions on Strategic Priorities

Using what you identify during pre-meeting conversations, design a meeting format and structure to help the team focus on strategic issues. As you evaluate what is strategic, we recommend ignoring whether issues are long- or short-term. The timeline associated with acting on an opportunity or challenge doesn’t determine its strategic importance. Rather, think of strategic issues as those that will create a material impact on any of the following areas for your organization:

  • Its brands
  • Key audiences
  • Customers and prospects
  • Structure and alignment
  • Financial prospects
  • Vision and values
  • Resources and raw materials

Sharing and adopting a comparable framework for what is strategic helps keep a discussion focused on matters that will legitimately move the needle in any of these areas.

We also use several other approaches to steer strategic conversations:

  • List the major strategic themes you identify before the meeting. Allow the senior group to individually and collectively assign each item to a category: strategic, tactical, or (project) task issues.
  • Assign time limits to various agenda topics, allowing more time for strategic matters—disproportionately so.
  • As tactical or extraneous items are mentioned and commanding attention, stop and ask for clarification around the strategic issue to which they relate. If they can’t be tied back to strategy, table them.
  • Tackle non-strategic topics with questions that reveal them for what they are. Ask: How does this contribute to accomplishing our major objectives? How will this create a meaningful impact for customers (or other audiences)? If we don’t address this at a senior level, what major downsides will it create?

You can use these techniques individually or in combination to help manage discussions toward a strategic level.

3. Actively Listening for Strategic Information

From our experience, it’s rare that senior leaders (or anyone else for that matter) will articulate clear strategy statements and strategic issues right away. Instead, strategy emerges from snippets of conversation. That places heavy responsibility on the meeting facilitator to listen for strategic inputs amid conversation that may largely seem tactical.

Beyond monitoring for the strategic areas we mentioned earlier, listen for any conversation that touches on:

  • Organizational aspirations
  • Expectations tied to strategic initiatives and outcomes
  • Numbers that help size the impact of a strategic initiative
  • Significant strengths and weaknesses
  • Factors impacting organizational success, either positively or negatively
  • Descriptions of metrics and objectives
  • Beliefs central to the ways in which an organization conducts business
  • Elements that will contribute to decision making

By identifying the types of information you need to develop and refine strategy, you can better recognize relevant elements that surface throughout a strategic discussion. When details emerge, record and organize them in a way that both highlights their strategic nature and provides a visual aid to align the group. We’ve used this technique to allow a leadership team the flexibility to talk in an open format, while capturing their strategic insights and organizing them in a way they can productively use. Another advantage to actively and distinctly posting strategic decisions and issues as you go through a meeting is that it creates a visual aid to manage the conversation. If people get in the weeds when trying to revisit previously-made decisions, you can point them to the decision list to demonstrate it has already been addressed.

Additionally, if several senior participants are struggling to stay on a strategic plane, divide the larger group into smaller sub-groups. Put tactical thinkers together, freeing those ready to stay focused on strategic topics and make progress.

Keep Trying

We’ve suggested various ideas for keeping strategic priorities a focus for executives . We’ve used them all successfully. Yet they won’t all work in every situation. Try them, adapt where you need to do so, and develop your own variations that work most successfully with your group of senior leaders.  – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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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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It’s the time of year when it’s easy to look backward and forward at multiple dimensions of your implementation plan.

You have enough time to gain a sense of what’s working. You can look at your first steps and see whether your subsequent steps have been as effective. There is also enough time to still address gaps in your implementation plan to improve results before the year ends.
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What are those forward and backward looks telling you about the success of your implementation plan?

  • Are your people rallied around strategic priorities versus daily distractions?
  • Have you engaged key audiences to move forward aggressively?
  • Are you successfully executing innovation initiatives beyond the first big splash earlier in the year?
  • When things haven’t gone as expected, is your organization agile enough to change the direction?

If your implementation plan results are lacking by this point in the year, we have just the thing for you! It’s not too late!

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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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