Successful Strategic Planning

I have been conducting strategic planning retreats for companies for decades. Over the years I have learned so much. I’ve had awesome experiences and have had more than my share of times where I felt like I could have done better. Here are some tips for making your strategic planning process more successful.

Decide to do it. Making a decision to undertake a strategic planning process is the first step. Once you decide to do it put a date on the calendar.

Don’t wait until the end of the year. If you’re going to plan for the upcoming year – start early. I recommend starting the process at least four months before your new year begins.

Hire someone from outside the company to help you. I know this tip is coming from a consultant who does strategic planning AND I truly believe this to be true. I’ve hired outside help for the companies I’ve owned because I know I’m not the best person to lead my own process. I need outside help to guide the process.

Do the work before the retreat or strategic planning event. The event, or retreat, is important but if you didn’t do the work prior to showing up the event will not yield the same results.

Gather feedback from across the company. Too often strategic planning is the job of a select few in the company. Not everyone needs to be in the room for the actual event, but all voices need to be heard. The more input you gather, the more accurate your plan will be and the more engaged your team will feel.

Create a strong agenda. Include a good blend of celebrating the past, planning for the future and team building around your strategic vision. If you’ve done your homework, or had someone do it for you, the agenda will be what the group needs. Too often if work’s not done prior to the event, there won’t be enough clarity in the agenda to get stuff done.

Get off-site. You need to get out of the office! Strategic planning requires space – physical and intellectual. It’s an art and a science.

Have someone take notes. Whether you do the planning yourself or hire an outside consultant– engage a notetaker. This person’s only role is to take notes, to document the day. I won’t work with a group if they are not willing to engage a notetaker for the day. This needs to be a person who is not involved in the retreat and is skilled at capturing all the details. Having a notetaker frees the group up to be present and not worry about capturing what was said.

Keep it simple. Most strategic plans I read are way too complicated. They contain more detail than they need and confuse the individuals who need to implement them. If possible narrow the plan to less than a page and then support with specific action plans for different departments, initiatives and business lines.

Purposefully follow up after the event.  What happens in the first 30 days after the event is the most important. Strategic planning retreats can be amazing. People leave inspired, connected and engaged with the future of the company. Then they go back to work and get caught up in the day-to-day. Immediate follow up after the event with detailed action plans and timelines for getting the plan completed quickly is the key to moving into the implementation phase.

Create an implementation and communication plan. An implementation plan includes specific actions step with timelines assigned to specific individuals. I like to assign a champion to each initiative. The goal of a champion is not to do the work themselves; their role is to move the initiative forward. They continue to bring their team and the individuals involved in that strategy back to focus. The communication plan is really the marketing plan for the strategic plan. This details how you will communicate and engage the entire company with the plan.