Over my 25+ years as a facilitator, I have had the pleasure of facilitating over a hundred teams through strategic planning activities. Over that time I have experimented with various processes to try to arrive at my own set of best practices for engagement strategies in each component of the strategic planning framework.

In our course, The Secrets to Facilitating Strategy, we provide facilitators “the secrets” we’ve learned for preparing, developing, implementing, and monitoring a comprehensive strategic planning process which we call The Drivers Model. In this post I want to show you the engagement strategies I use for three of the components of the strategic plan: the situation assessment, goal development, and the mission statement.

The Situation Assessment

There are three phases in the Drivers Model. During the situation assessment phase, we lead the planning team in compiling a briefing book that documents critical information from six perspectives: customers, employees, upper management, competitors, industry trends, and organization current situation.

During the first session of the situation assessment phase, the team reviews the information in the briefing book. As you can imagine, this could be a long, drawn-out review with someone spending 20-40 minutes on each of the six briefing book sections presenting all the information that has been compiled for that section. And, unfortunately, having a series of “talking heads” one after the other tends to produce low levels of engagement.

Developing the Briefing Book

The approach we recommend the following engagement strategies for the developing and reviewing the briefing book:

  1. Distribute the briefing book to all participants at least a week prior to the first strategy session. With the briefing book, encourage people to highlight in each section any points they feel are critical (i.e., key observations). Also, ask them to jot down any steps the organization might take to address the key observations (i.e., potential strategies).
  2. Assign a person to each section of the briefing book to give a brief, four to eight-minute review of the information in the section.
  3. Following each brief review, have the participants work in teams to document key observations (on sticky notes) and potential strategies the organization might take.
  4. Have them format their potential strategies in a specific “verb-object-purpose” format to ensure that the action to be taken and the reason for the action are clear. For example, a potential strategy might be, “Revise the product-to-market process to increase efficiency and reduce time to market.”

In addition to keeping participants engaged, by the time the situation assessment review is complete, this process results in a set of potential strategies that can be carried into the strategy development phase that comes later.

Goal Development

In the Drivers Model, we define goals as broad, long-term aims that define accomplishment of the mission. Of the hundreds of organizations for whom we have done planning, each has had between three and eight goals. In the sample plan that appears below, the organization identified six goals.

To identify the goals of an organization, we use the following engagement strategies process:

  1. Using a visualization exercise, have participants identify success 10 years out. For example, a typical visualization we use involves the organization receiving the Company of the Year award for its industry. In the exercise we have the participants visualize what industry leaders are saying about the organization, what customers are saying, what employees are saying, and what competitors are saying are the reasons the organization received the award. They also visualize the leader of the organization accepting the award and explaining the steps the organization took to achieve it.
  2. Either during the visualization exercise or after it is complete, ask participants to write down what they saw and heard.
  3. Assign small group leaders to lead their teams by having all of their team members share what they saw. Ask the small group leaders to record on individual Post-itstm a composite view of key elements found in the visualizations of their members. For example, one member might have said, “We had over $100 million in sales,” while another said, “We achieved $500 million in sales.” A composite Post-ittm might read, “We had $100-500 million in sales.”
  1. Have the small group leaders read their composite Post-itstm before the entire group. After a vision element is read, ask the entire group to create categories and group the elements. For example, a vision element such as, “We had $100-500 million in sales,” might be in a category called “growth.” An element like, “Most innovative products in the industry,” might be in a “product” category.
  2. Once all the vision elements have been read, propose to the participants that these vision categories may very well be the goals of the organization. Often, the participants will want to combine or refine the goal areas.
  3. Review sample goals and the quality check for goals and create a goal statement for the first goal category.

Quality Check

  • As a group, do the goals represent all of the key areas of strategic focus for the organization?
  • Have the goals been limited to three to eight?
  • For each goal, have brief descriptions been provided that adequately explain the overall aim of each goal?
  • Are the goals global in scope (i.e. do theystart with “infinite verbs” and exclude references to specific quantities or time frames)?
  • If the organization achieves these goals, and only these goals, will the organization most likely have fulfilled its mission?
  1. Assign a goal category to each small group to draft a goal statement. Use rotational review and informed majority (described in previous newsletter articles) to review and refine the goal statements.

Mission Statement

If you have been through the effort of creating an organization’s mission statement, then you probably know how painful the experience can be. Planning teams typically spend days, and sometimes weeks or months, debating over the exact words needed. Some want to be clear and concise. Others want to be aspirational and inspiring. And, still, others want a mission statement that is achievable in their lifetime. Is there any wonder why the task is so difficult?

In analyzing the challenges that groups have in developing mission statements, our team has concluded that the process is typically flawed. Why? Because the planning team usually is trying to do three tasks simultaneously:

  • Define who we are today.
  • Define who we want to be in the future.
  • Put these thoughts in a small, pithy sentence.

What can make developing a mission statement so frustrating is that you can have all three discussions occurring all at the same time! While one person is focused on today, another is looking to tomorrow, while a third is focusing on the specific word choice.

We break the process up first by using the visioning and goal engagement strategies described earlier to help define how the organization sees the future. Once the goal work is done, we take the following steps:

  1. Educate the team by defining the quality check for a mission statement and having the team evaluate the mission statements of several organizations. The quality check for a mission statement includes the following.

Quality Check

  • Does the mission statement broadly describe what you do, for whom you do it, and the benefit?
  • Does the mission statement indicate the industry or market that the organization serves?
  • Does the mission statement contain enough specificity to distinguish this organization’s mission from that of other organizations in the same industry?
  1. Have the team as an entire group provide answers to the three mission questions:
  • What do we do?
  • For whom do we do it?
  • What’s the benefit?
  1. Break out into teams and instruct the teams to create mission statement candidates that meet the quality check and respond to the three mission questions.
  2. Review the mission statement candidates by having the teams identify the strengths and weaknesses of each. (Note: Participants are often surprised by how similar the mission statements turn out to be. Perhaps there should be little surprise since all the teams had the same starting point – the answers to the three mission questions and the same criteria for measuring quality.)
  3. Have the group vote on one of the mission statements to use as a starting point. I like using a slight wrinkle on the voting process –people can’t vote for the mission statement developed by the team they were on!
  4. Refine the starting point by having the team address the previously identified weaknesses.

We believe these engagement strategies help keep participants focused throughout the strategic planning process. You can learn more about strategic planning techniques through our course, The Secrets to Facilitating Strategy. If you would like assistance in developing your strategic plan, contact us!