Strategic planning participants often express the desire to be well prepared before the first group meeting. It is understandable that a dedicated and diligent new executive or up and coming leader might experience anxiety as they think about their first strategy discussion. After all, their boss will be in the room, all their peers and possibly a colleague or two with whom they don't see eye to eye. So how should they prepare to be successful at engaging in a process they know little about or have no experience in?
Strategic planning follows (or should follow) a different structure than management presentations, operational meetings, or even problem-solving sessions. For those that have not had the opportunity to participate before, all they know is this is where the direction is set.
Typically, every strategic planning meeting is proceeded by some assessment exercise: a survey and an interview, a brief group meeting where the issues to be discussed during the next planning cycle are identified. If you have been invited to the planning meetings, you should have participated in one of those assessment activities. Yet for many, that's not enough. They want to know how to be successful engaging at the direction-setting level.
Here's what you should do to prepare:
1. Collect your thoughts about what you see is working well in the organization today. Acknowledge what you, your team or others are doing that are producing desired results. Strategy development is not about fixing things. It is about evolving from where you are to where you want to go, so having a good understanding of what is working well is always important before you start strategy development.
2. Brainstorm the list of issues you feel must be addressed for future success. Think about:
- Resources and capability investments that could significantly improve operations
- Processes that need to be developed or streamlined
- Roles that need to be defined or clarified
- Gaps in your product or service offering that will address some customer need or competitive pressure
- Cultural and or morale issues that are hampering the organization today
- Questions about your market, the competition or future growth
Strategic thinking is about disrupting incremental thinking to open new space for new strategies to make big leaps for future success. We find that when a group is thinking strategically, the issues identified during the assessment fall away, and new priorities are identified. These new priorities are set based on the next big strategic goal rather than to resolve today's issues.
So, prepare your thoughts, but most importantly, prepare your mind to explore and engage in new thinking with your fellow strategists. A shift in your mindset will set you up for great first strategic planning efforts.