I Led a Strategic Planning Session Last Weekend - Here's What We Discussed

I led a two-day Strategic Planning Session for a customer last weekend. It was so successful, I want you to be able to do one as well. Here is what did, and how we did it:

The Meetings

The President and all the top-level managers participated in this session. We all left town on Saturday night and went to an Air B&B in a neighboring city so that we could focus on planning, build some camaraderie, and avoid interruptions. On Sunday morning we got started, and worked through lunch (we ordered a pizza). At dinner time, we wrapped up and made dinner together and spent the evening talking, playing games and watching football. On Monday, we started again in the morning and wrapped up and went home around 4pm.

Equipment

We kept the equipment simple. Everyone had their own laptops, and I had detailed agendas for everyone. We used an easel with sticky-note type paper to record our thoughts, so that we could tear off sheets and hang them on the wall. I also took a picture of each sheet with my phone. We also had the ability to ChromeCast to the television, and we put some spreadsheets on the TV as we talked. That's it - you can do this with minimal expense.

Preparation 

Other than preparing and sharing an Agenda, preparation was minimal. They prepared some basic financial information in spreadsheets so that everyone could see the company's financial position, and the President was prepared to talk about the state of the industry as far as opportunities and competition. That was all we needed for a great session - this is really all about brainstorming and creating a shared vision.

The Agenda 

There are dozens of ways to approach a strategic planning session, but this is how we did it this time. I broke the two days into 4 sessions, each lasting half a day. The sessions were:

  • Goal Setting: Where are we Headed?

  • The Glide Path: How do we Get There?

  • The Launch Pad: Where are we Today?

  • The Marketing Plan

Each of these sessions had several subtopics. 

The First Morning

we reviewed the current top-level financial condition of the company (revenues, etc.) and they set an initial 5-year goal for the company. We talked about whether this goal should be revenue based, profits based, or based on some other metric, and then what that long term goal should be. We then discussed the current market and where it's going, our customers, channels and products, and whether these current lines of business would be enough to get us to that goal or whether other lines or channels would be needed. We finished up by discussing what people, skills, licenses, facilities, etc. the company would have to have at the end of 5 years if they hit the goal. The final result was a pretty good picture of where they are trying to head and what they will look like when they get there.

The First Afternoon

we tried to set a path from the present to that future. While not all these items were relevant to our discussions, you can discuss such things as: Revenue increases by year; Customer increases in size/type/number by year; New product development and roll out; New channel development; Employee/contractor/vendor additions by quarter; Facilities and infrastructure changes; Changes needed to organizational structure to accomplish goal; and Formal procedures needed to accomplish goals. Our discussions led them in the direction of creating a reorganization of the entire business of the company - with each of the top managers assigned to lead a division, a clear understanding of what employees would be in each division and how they would interact together as we moved toward their goals. The first afternoon was powerful, and we finished the day already feeling like progress was being made.

The Second Morning 

was spent getting into the details about their current workforce and immediate, concrete next steps needed to begin their new journey. We started with a detailed SWOT analysis, and discussed how to leverage their strengths and grow without losing them, how to minimize their weaknesses and grow past them, how to take advantages of their opportunities, and how to mitigate their threats. We found that much of this covered things we had gone over the prior day, but put them in a new perspective and added clarity. After the SWOT exercise, we discussed in detail their current workforce, identified immediate needs and made hiring and training plan for this coming year.

The Final Afternoon

was the shortest session, and focused on how to tune their marketing message, internally and externally, to the new strategic plan. We discussed Competitive Advantage and how they view their company in comparison with the competition. We also discussed ideal customers and how they might reach them. Finally, we talked about refining their elevator pitch and marketing plans in light of all this new information.

My Role

as an outside business consultant, was just to lead the sessions, keep people on task, ask questions and record answers. I didn't bring the answers - the team had those. Bringing them together, in a structured setting, and giving them all time to talk to one another and reflect on these questions brought the answers out and together they found consensus. It was so valuable, they resolved to make this a regular process.

I highly recommend you take some time and engage in some similar strategic planning for your business. If you want a copy of my Agenda, I'll be happy to share it with you. Good luck!