nu-yar’s Strategic Planning Process

I LOVE working on strategic planning with clients. In fact, over the last few years, strategic planning work makes up about half of my business. It’s an important process, one I feel honored to be part of.

Companies often hire a consultant to help with the strategic planning process. Some want a partner for the process and others just want a facilitator for their off-site event.  The process and the event itself can be daunting tasks. It can be overwhelming to put together an effective agenda and then to facilitate the process with their team. That is where I come in. I work with companies who want a partner in the process of strategic planning – before, during and after the off-site retreat. I do not do event facilitation. I believe strategic planning is a process – it’s so much more than an event. The work that goes into the plan before the retreat is key to making the day[s] effective. The work that happens after the retreat is critical to the success of the plan.

Most of my clients end up working with me for a few years. I help facilitate the entire process from discovery through implementation and then we do it all over again the next year. Each year we build on and strengthen the plan from the previous year. Then we again work on implementing it across the company.

Every client is unique. Companies who’ve been doing strategic planning consistently for years require less work than those new to strategic planning. I will meet with a potential client to determine what they need from the process, where they want to go and how to best get there. There is no magic formula or one-size fits all with strategic planning. I have a toolbox of resources I’ve developed over the last few decades to help companies through the process. While no two processes look the same, a typical client goes through the following phases when we work together.

The Discovery Phase:
During this phase I work with the organization to collect the data needed to put together an effective agenda for the strategic planning retreat. This phase can include in-person meetings with key players, company wide surveys and focus groups. My goal during this time is to get to know the company and their people. I want to get a good feel for what’s most important to people from across the company. I look for themes – what’s working and what could work better. This phase also includes researching the company and studying all material relevant to the planning process. This phase takes time, potentially up to a month or two. Many organizations rush this phase – they want to get to the retreat. The more time a company takes during this phase, the more comprehensive their plan will be. The more input they gather, the more engaged their team will be. When companies allow their entire team to share their thoughts – they are excited and want to be part of the plan.  Once the research Is completed, I compile, review and summarize all data. This overview is then presented to the client with suggestions for the retreat agenda.

Pre-Work Phase:
During this phase I work with the organization to narrow the focus of the retreat agenda. Once we have finalized the agenda, I work with the client to create key messaging and all pre-work to be completed by the planning team. The messaging and pre-work is designed to engage the planning team prior to the retreat. The goal is to have the group come prepared and ready to get to work on the day of the event.

Retreat Facilitation:
During the retreat my focus is to lead the group through the agenda we’ve created, while also staying open to ideas without getting in the weeds. Sometimes the agenda is solid and exactly what the group needs, other times important items surface that must be addressed. My role is to keep the group on task, ask tough questions and encourage participation from all members.

Plan Completion:
During this phase I work with the company to finalize their written plan. This phase may require a great deal of work or it may be simply polishing what was created during the retreat. Most often I find there is a month or so of work post event to complete the plan. The amount of post event work is determined by the size of the company and the complexity of their plan. The more the company stays engaged after the event the faster this phase moves. As I’m working with the company to finalize their plan I often engage with smaller teams or individuals, help with the draft, and hold the team accountable for completing the plan in a timely manner.  Once the final draft has been created, I re-engage the entire planning team from the off-site work to approve the final plan.

Communication Phase:
A client once said they felt their strategic plan needed a marketing plan. That’s what the communication phase is. It’s the step in the process where the plan is communicated to the rest of the organization. It requires thoughtful messaging. It takes work to create a plan. It also takes work to communicate the plan. Often companies create solid plans, but then most people within the organization don’t even know it exists. Or if they know it exists, they have no idea how it impacts them or what the initiatives are. This phase could things like newsletters, videos, podcasts or company wide events. The key is to communicate the plan in various ways, multiple times. I work with many of my clients monthly helping them to continue communicating the plan, staying the course with implementation and then reporting progress on the plan back to the organization.

Implementation Phase:
The communication phase may continue even after the implementation phase has begun. During implementation, the work begins. This phase can include any activity that moves the strategic priorities forward. I recommend the company have two versions of their plan – a short form that can easily be shared across the company and a long form that includes SMART goals and timelines. We need the key strategies, the 2 or 3 priorities, to inspire and motivate the organization. We need the goals, tactics and timelines, the specifics, to provide the road map. Too many times strategic plans lack the action plans needed for implementation. 

I’ve read many great plans that never got off the ground. The ideas were great, people were engaged and then after the retreat all went back to business as usual. I think the work I do with organization in this phase is some of the most meaningful work I do. I challenge and guide companies to follow through on implementing, executing and measuring the things they have committed to doing. This is where the magic happens.

Strategic planning is a process that if done right is never done. It’s a journey – one that should be fun, inspirational and engaging.