Rethinking  the process for Strategic Planning

... a post-COVID approach.

The planning process has changed (for the better) since COVID.

The pandemic forced us to work differently.

  • Public health guidelines meant that many of us worked remotely via video-conferencing rather than meeting in person.

  • As strategy and meeting facilitation experts, we witnessed a paradigm shift: executive teams devised plans in a novel way that never would have been considered in the pre-COVID world.

 

There are two parts to strategic planning.
 

Strategic planning – no matter the time horizon (1, 3, or 5 years) – has two parts:

  1. The plan document(s)

  2. The process of devising the plan: Establishing and/or revising the mission, vision, values, SWOT, goals, objectives, strategies, tactics and implementation
     

Let’s review the pre- and post-COVID scenarios: "before" and the "new approach"

 

BEFORE

Here is the typical pre-COVID approach to the strategic planning process:

  • A 3-day off-site meeting with senior executives, held once per year

  • Lots of PowerPoint presentations ("death" by PowerPoint)

  • Sometimes round-table discussions, Q&A: strong personalities might dominate
     

There are three main pitfalls with this approach: time poverty, pre-work, and post-meeting follow-up.

Pitfall #1: Time Poverty

  • Three days can seem like plenty of time to craft a strategic plan.

    • However, once the agenda is circulated, most people do not realize how little time has actually been allocated for truly creative thinking and innovative ideas.

    • Typically, each functional area is given a time slot for a presentation and Q&A. In the end, there may be only 10 to 15 minutes of discussion per topic.

    • These discussions are generally unstructured conversations: "Hey Jill, what do you think?" People’s comments are typically top-of-mind thoughts without a lot of critical thinking, especially if there was no pre-work (see below).

    • This overall approach does not provide the ingredients of a robust strategic plan – one based on insights, and which creates and capitalizes on competitive advantage and realizes cost efficiencies.

  • In our experience,  the best results come from a collaborative client-plus-consultant approach requiring 150 to 350+ consulting hours, depending on the sector, the complexity of the organization, and the strategic opportunities and challenges being tackled.

Pitfall #2: Pre-work … too much or too little

  • This is often a problem of extremes: either voluminous amounts of information which overwhelms participants and thus goes unread, or no pre-session assignment.

  • As a result, participants arrive with their usual points of view and no new perspectives because their thinking has not been challenged.

  • Extroverts may dominate the meeting. Introverts will quietly withdraw.
     

Pitfall #3: Post-meeting follow-up … usually minimal

  • During the meeting, participants will individually take notes.

    • Some groups designate a scribe to record the main discussion points and decisions.

    • This is fine, but this is not a strategic plan.

  • Without synthesis and linkages to the organizations mission and vision, the “plan” becomes a list of tactics, rather than a roadmap based on insights of how the organization will “win”.

 

 

SO, WHAT'S THE SOLUTION? 

The new approach for strategic planning, combines a mix of:

 

Here are 5 reasons why many organizations are moving to this hybrid model.

Reason #1: Incubation time

  • The process starts with a series of virtual meetings. They take place over several weeks; often one meeting per week over 5 to 6 weeks.

  • Pre-work is assigned prior to each meeting to stimulate creative thinking and innovative approaches.

  • The meetings are 2 to 3 hours long, each one on a very focused topic.

  • We frequently use virtual break-out groups and other digital tools.
     

Reason #2: Broad participation

  • Virtual meetings allow team members from various locations to participate.

  • No travel is involved (no airfare, hotels, meals...), so there are cost savings.

  • Short meetings are easier to schedule within people's existing agendas.

Reason #3: Effective conversations and problem-solving with professional meeting facilitation

  • Effective meeting design ensures all participants can contribute optimally.

  • Engagement tools, both on-line (virtual) and in-person, create dynamic sessions where creativity thrives.

  • Methods such as: Six Thinking Hats, World Café, Open-Space Technology, Business Simulations (group role play), and hundreds more.

  • Guided discussions ensure that all voices are heard.

  • Orthodoxies are challenged (“we’ve always done it that way” … “that’ll never work”)

Reason #4: New perspectives and insights are uncovered

  • Strategic consulting expertise injects rigour and best practice strategy models, tools, and approaches.

  • Opportunities and challenges are revisited with a fresh, new view.

  • Linkages between various facets of the plan are revealed.

  • Bold and innovative strategies are proposed.

  • Capacity building: greater critical and strategic thinking.

Reason #5: A new focus for the off-site, in-person meeting

Yes … still hold that off-site session, but now, with a more focused purpose.

  • Imagine a deeper dive on the innovative ideas that emerged throughout the virtual meetings.

  • Imagine using scenario thinking to visualize potential futures.

  • Imagine business simulations and group-role playing to anticipate the reaction of competitors or stakeholders to your leading-edge strategies.

  • Imagine your team engaged in innovation and creativity games to fine-tune strategic approaches.

  • Imagine team-building exercises that help create and solidify your desired organizational culture.​