Magazine article Training & Development

How to Have a Successful Strategic Planning Meeting

Magazine article Training & Development

How to Have a Successful Strategic Planning Meeting

Article excerpt

The key's in the preparation.

By now, most companies recognize how critical strategic planning is to global competition and keeping pace with technology innovation. But a key element--the strategic planning meeting--fails in many cases due to lack of preparation. There are ways to conduct such meetings to get the best results for executing a company's strategies successfully. Strategic planning meetings can enable participating managers to better understand the chosen strategic direction and enhance their commitment. That, in turn, fosters smooth implementation. Althoug1gh the primary responsibility for strategic planning traditionally rests with line managers, HR managers are becoming key players in championing strategic planning and change.

In a strategic planning meeting, top managers seek to agree on what the future will look like for their company and what strategies should be adopted for approaching that vision. Too often, executives go to planning meetings that haven't been adequately prepared and that don't follow an effective methodology. Such meetings usually produce few quality decisions, fail to gain agreement, and waste time and talent. A fuzzy approach and insufficient information typically lead to speculations about the work environment and arguments about issues, based on people's assumptions and differing opinions rather than on facts. With an organized methodology, there's more agreement and commitment and better decisions. The course of the company can be altered within the time it takes to conduct the meeting. In such meetings, the vital information has been assembled and is readily available at the beginning so that decision making can begin immediately.

The strategic planning meeting guidelines in this article have been used at Household International, Honeywell, General Signal, and other companies in more than 50 meetings involving more than 1,000 managers.

Preplanning

Step 1: Choosing the facilitator. A key step in organizing a strategic planning meeting is to choose a competent facilitator who will follow an effective, focused approach to ensure a productive, smooth flow and who will coach managers to arrive at a visionary and flexible strategic plan.

Though an internal facilitator might seem a good choice because of his or her intimate knowledge of the company, there are compelling reasons for considering an external, professional facilitator. One, political motivation can bias an internal facilitator and possibly change the direction of key decisions, while an external facilitator will most likely remain neutral. Two, an internal facilitator, with job security in mind, might hesitate to coach someone at a higher level (even if that person needs considerable guidance), but an external facilitator won't have such reasons for hesitation. In addition, an external facilitator brings different experiences and skills that can be useful to strategic planning.

There are two kinds of professionals offering facilitation skills. In general, one kind has a specialty that focuses only on running meetings. Those facilitators tend to have a background in the human behavior disciplines, such as psychology or group dynamics. They might not have a deep understanding of management concepts and therefore won't be able to help a company build its strategic information platform or its processes for strategic planning and implementation.

The other kind of facilitator comes from a background in strategic management, with such capabilities as assisting management in environmental analysis, building the strategic information base, facilitating planning meetings, designing and implementing planning processes, monitoring processes, and coaching management in executing plans and organizational change. Their facilitation skills have been developed to help management lead an overall planning process. With that kind of professional, the facilitation activities can be more relevant because they will be seen as a piece of overall strategic management change. …

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