Successful Strategic Planning Starts Well Before the Retreat

Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning is my preferred activity to do with our business and nonprofit clients. There is something about charting a new course for the future that is invigorating and exciting. It’s also a little scary the first few times you do it, but I’ve learned to trust the process. Process being the operative word. Without a defined process, strategic planning can be unpleasant and unproductive. In this article, I’d like to share a few pointers on the role of a good facilitator and advance preparation for strategic planning.

The goal of strategic planning should be to produce a plan that is relevant to the needs of the organization and realistic enough to have a high degree of implementation success. It should be a living breathing document that provides enough flexibility to allow for changing conditions, which are inevitable.

A strategic plan is much more likely to serve the needs of the organization if it is created in an inclusive environment where all participants are fully engaged and invested in its outcomes. Participants need to feel ownership and commitment to the process.

The good strategic planning facilitator will begin work with the company far in advance of the retreat itself. They need to take the time to learn about the client’s mission, culture, past planning, how it makes decisions and solve problems and what its capacity is to implement. These important advance conversations with key stakeholders inform what model, process and strategies should be used to help the organization through the planning process.

My colleagues and I at Human Resource Partners, do this without fail. We feel it is irresponsible to go into a strategic planning session with a board or leadership team without the context of these interviews. Stakeholders can include customers, employees, suppliers, donors, volunteers, and board members. In-depth consultations focusing on their perspective and unique feedback is a critical advance component to strategic planning.

Capturing that data, synthesizing it and giving it back to the group in the anonymous aggregate prior to beginning the work of goal setting, allows the organization to see itself accurately. It never ceases to amaze me when that ‘ah hah’ moment arrives when the group recognizes an important truth about themselves that they collectively derived through the process of gathering their responses individually and confidentially. What one individual couldn’t say out loud in a group, six or seven agreed on when shared privately.

A good facilitator may already know from the advance work, what direction the group may go. A confident facilitator will still allow the group to get there organically without rushing the process. A truly gifted facilitator will encourage openness at every step in the process, will be prepared to adjust tactics in real time, and will make sure the group is feeling supported every step of the way.

Choose carefully, my friends. It may make the difference between having an effective and flexible strategic plan versus one that sits on the shelf collecting dust.

Molly Hodgson is a Senior Business Partner of Organizational Strategy at Human Resource Partners. As the newest member of the team, Molly enjoys sharing her unique perspective of transitioning from a leader who has helped several nonprofits achieve great success in helping HRP’s clients do the same.