Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite

Strategic FacilitationStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is where leaders of an organization establish the vision of the organization’s future and then develop and implement the actions necessary to achieve that future.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Getting the Most Out of Your Company’s Strategic Planning Offsite.

Especially for companies or organizations that have never really dedicated time to strategic planning, the first facilitation can prove to be a make or break experience for executives.

Up to this point, you have focused on developing the Organizational Assessment in my section on How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment.  Executive leadership have been involved from an interview perspective, but they haven’t been engaged to the level that we will expect during Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework.

This is when it “gets real.”

As we discuss this part of developing the strategic framework, we will cover these two subjects:

  • Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up.
  • Incorporating Scenario Planning into Your Strategic Planning Offsite.

This section is crucial for setting the stage and pre-planning a strategic planning offsite is almost as critical as holding it in the first place.  How you organize and what you do at the offsite is as important as the results.  This sets the experience that executives should expect from all strategic planning in the future.

If your offsite is boring, produces little results, feels conceived, and appears to be a waste of time, then your resulting strategy will undoubtedly fail to achieve desired results.

The organization of the event is critical.  Executives time is always at a premium and pulling them out of the office for even a half day session is met with resistance.  Getting buy-in from the senior leader on the importance of the offsite is critical.  You need to get their dedicated time and if they aren’t willing to dedicate time to setting strategy, you need to question their understanding of a leader’s purpose in a company.

My approach to an organization’s first strategic planning offsite takes one dedicated day.  If the organization has specific issues to deal with, like determining roles and responsibilities, working through a significant cultural issues, etc., then I might add a day or two where they will work specifically on these issues.

Of course, everything is planned in advance and the organizational assessment should already have highlighted additional offsite planning needs and activities.

This is how I normally organize a strategic planning offsite and why:

  • Set the Stage. Step one at the offsite is to ensure that everyone is present. If the senior leader can’t make it, then don’t have the offsite. This sends a message (regardless of the reason) that the strategy isn’t important. The senior leader kicks off the event and then introduces the facilitators. I like to have at least three people working a strategic planning offsite–two facilitators and a really good note taker. When the facilitator takes the stage, they should take charge. It is a job of the facilitator not only to ensure everything is completed in the allotted time, but to control the group. You will be challenged at some point and probably often by the executives in the room and you must be firm and tactful. Have rules of engagement and stick to an advertised agenda.
  • Level Set. Before you get into anything about the organization, level set the group on what strategic planning is. Get everyone to agree on terms and definitions that will be used. Everyone in the room has an opinion on what strategy and strategic planning is; what you want is one common definition that the organization will agree on. This eliminates ambiguity as to what the terms you use mean. Some organizations might call it a business plan, others might call it a campaign plan. Some use mission to reflect both the mission and vision, while some might call a mission a purpose. Regardless, get these things on the table and finalized up front to eliminate confusion later.
  • Organizational Assessment. The second level setting activity is when you explore the results of the organizational assessment with the entire leadership team. Prior to the offsite, I will have reviewed the results with the senior leader to ensure they are comfortable with all the findings being shown. If they are good, then they stand behind the results. Undoubtedly there will be significant discussion on some to several points. They will want to add information to the assessment, which you should capture on white boards or butcher block and keep posted throughout. This makes sure that everyone fully understands, at the same level, the issues that the organization faces and the strengths and opportunity the organization has at its disposal.
  • Mission Statement. I, using the knowledge from the assessment, lead the leaders through creation of a new or validation of an existing mission statement (or whatever they’re calling it). I will cover this in a few weeks in more detail.
  • Vision Statement. I, using the knowledge from the assessment, lead the leaders through creation of a new or validation of an existing vision statement (or whatever they’re calling it). I will also cover this in a few weeks in more detail.
  • Lunch. By this time, the leaders understand the current state and have a mission and vision to move forward. It is time to break for lunch and let them discuss and reflect.
  • Develop the Plan. Next week I will take you through the approach that I use to build a strategic plan from the bottom up. This activity is simple and ensures the resulting plan has an executable focus on fixing organizational problems and overcoming barriers to the organization’s vision. This series of exercises takes most of the afternoon.
  • Assignment of Ownership. At the end of the day, I get the leaders to assign ownership to the plan. The plan will have high-level goals (or whatever you decide to call them) and it is important that the leadership of the organization take ownership of these goals. So, before I close out for the day, each goal gets a person that will own it and will drive it toward implementation.
  • Closeout. At the end, I wrap up by covering what we discussed, our results, and discuss the next steps. Then, I ask the senior leader to close out the planning offsite with their thoughts and direction for the leadership team.

Thoughtful organization of your strategic planning offsite will ensure executive’s time is used appropriately and the result will be an effective strategy for the organization.

So, 70% of all plans fail to some level; however, by following these guidelines you can help ensure your strategic plan will be one of the 30% successes that everyone reads about.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

3 Responses to Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite

  1. Pingback: Think Big, Take Small Steps | John R. Knotts

  2. Pingback: Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up | John R. Knotts

  3. Pingback: Incorporating Scenario Planning into Your Planning Offsite | John R. Knotts

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