Make your Strategic Planning Meeting More Effective

January 08, 2015

The start of a new year is a great time to take stock of your business, develop a strategy for the rest of the year, set goals, and put plans in place. It sounds straightforward, but strategic planning can be intimidating. Yet, it doesn’t have to be.

I have been involved in and led dozens of strategic planning sessions over the years. Through trial and error – lots of error – I’ve developed a “quick and dirty strategic planning checklist.” Here goes:

Structure Your Planning Meeting

The most successful strategic planning meetings are well-organized with clear goals. Here are some basic tips to make yours a success.

  • Set aside a full day. You need time to think and be creative. Decide who you want involved in your session. Usually, this is you and your key management team.
  • Go offsite or put a “do not disturb” sign on the door. It’s much harder to do strategic planning with phones ringing and constant interruptions. Most things can wait a day without your attention.
  • No multi-tasking. No texting or email. No phone calls, except at breaks. No one should be excused “to handle something” for anything less than the building being on fire.
  • Take notes. Assign someone to be responsible for capturing the ideas developed and turning them into notes and action items after the meeting.

What to Cover in Your Meeting

  • Start with an agenda. A written agenda is essential to keep on track.
  • Do not try to “boil the ocean.” You will have more to cover than you can get through. Also, most companies simply underestimate how much time it takes to let everyone have his or her say when multiple people are in a room. You’re going to have to prioritize and set time limits for discussion. Assigning someone as a timekeeper to keep things moving through your agenda helps.
  • Start with a SWOT Analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. There are many ways to do such an analysis, but a simple way is to list each of these four items on a whiteboard, then set aside 30 to 60 minutes each to discuss each. List key observations and notes in each category. You will want to:
    • Understand your strengths so you can take advantage of them. For example. look at your numbers and where your sales and profit have been very good, what gets customers excited, and the areas where your employees give you an advantage.
    • Face your weaknesses so you can overcome them or compensate for them. Review what didn’t go right during the past year and the causes. Where did unexpected expenses pop up that ate into profit? Or why were employees dissatisfied?
    • Identify a few untapped opportunities to pursue. Have customers asked for products or services you don’t currently carry? Has your research and development led to breakthrough products or processes that you haven’t developed?
    • Face threats and changing marketplace trends? Perhaps customer needs are changing or you are losing sales to one or more competitors. Examine whether your offerings becoming dated or obsolete or if there are any legal or regulatory issues to address in your business.
  • Turn your SWOT into Action. For each note listed under your four SWOT items, the team should ask itself and discuss, “What should we do about that?” Turn those ideas into powerful action items.
  • Financial Goals. Set specific financial goals for the coming year. What percent sales growth do you want to target? Is that realistic compared with past history? What about profit – to achieve your profit goals will you need to reduce expenses and if so, how much?

After the Meeting

After you put in the effort to capture this combination of good information and ideas, follow-through is important. You do not need to turn your strategic and business plan into a War and Peace-length document. But it is essential that everyone in the company be on the same page, and a written plan helps with that.

Hold an executive team meeting to present the written plan and reaffirm that everyone is on the same page. Also, schedule a company meeting to share selected parts, so the entire company is on board.

Whatever you do, don’t let your business “happen” by default. Take control, develop a strategy, and execute that strategy to build the business you envision.

The start of a new year is a great time to take stock of your business, develop a strategy for the rest of the year, set goals, and put plans in place. It sounds straightforward, but strategic planning can be intimidating. Yet, it doesn’t have to be.

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