“Where Are You Now?” is the fourth in a series of articles about building a high-impact roadmap for your company.
You can’t build a strategic plan on your own. You need to put together a planning team of the right people to bring different perspectives to the task. Below are several do’s and don’ts to make sure you get all the right people in the room and none of the wrong ones. Consider engaging a planning consultant to help you navigate the process and focus on bringing your experience and insight to the table without getting hung up the logistics.
Strategy is not really a solo sport – even if you’re the CEO.”~ Max McKeown
If you made it to this third installment of the series (links to installments one and two are below), you recognize that you need a strategic plan and know about the three big questions you’ll answer to grow your business and set yourself up for long-term success. Now it’s time to get started on building the plan.
As noted above, you need to gather the right people to form a planning committee. Don’t just gather the usual suspects, the people who always get tapped for special projects. Building a strategic plan is an opportunity to broaden your horizons. Here are some do’s and don’ts for assembling your planning team:
- Do focus on finding open-minded individuals who bring outside perspectives, people who show signs of thinking outside your four walls. These are the people who religiously follow your competitors, bring insights from seemingly unrelated things to bear on the work your company does, or show other signs of being engaged outside their narrow job focus.
- Do pick people who are willing to work and engage throughout the process. It will take several weeks at a minimum to build a plan from the ground up, and unless you are working in a very large organization, their day to day responsibilities aren’t easily offloaded , so this is a time for people who will put in extra hours and give extra effort. Also, this is collaborative work, so pick people who will engage and stay engaged throughout.
- Do find big-picture and long-range thinkers — there is a healthy dose of blue-sky thinking during the process, and you need people who can think that way. Not everyone involved needs to be able to think outside the box, but you need some who will.
- Do pick a cross-section of people from the organization — you need good representation from each of the major functions across the company.
- Do think outside your employees. Do you have board members who should participate and are willing? Any key suppliers or clients? Trusted advisers? Those viewpoints could be invaluable.
- Do seek to include future leaders of your organization. They’ll provide great insights, plus you will help their leadership development. You get to see them in action and assess their true potential. It’s also a great retention device: By including them in the planning process, you can entice your developing talent to stick with you to see the plan they helped create come to fruition.
- Do limit participation to a manageable group; too many voices will make progress elusive. I try to keep the team to no more than 12. If you must gather a larger group, consider a smaller steering committee, and then form subgroups for specific tasks. There will be plenty of opportunity for participation, so don’t feel compelled to give everyone a seat at the table now.
- Do consider having at least one contrarian in the room. It’s tempting to exclude the person who constantly raises challenges to new ideas, but that individual typically represents a group in the company. Having one of “them” in the process diffuses objections and will help you overcome the inevitable implementation challenges. It will also help you identify any holes in your plan, then refine and improve it.
- Don’t pick only the most tenured people. You need fresh perspectives, and the people who’ve been around the longest aren’t likely to provide them. Along the same lines, don’t just pick your senior staff. They presumably have great insight, but you need new voices.
- Don’t pick sycophants. If you just want people who agree with you, do everyone a favor and write the plan yourself. (I am not recommending this!)
- Don’t pick people who are too tied to the past. Employees who say “we already did that” or “that’s not how it works here” will suck the life out of your planning team. Building a strategic plan is exciting and rewarding; the last thing you need is someone dragging you down repeatedly.
The last “don’t” is too big to be a bullet point: Don’t pick anyone because you’re worried that leaving them out will “send the wrong message” or hurt feelings, such as the guy who led the plan last time but is living in the past, the guy who thinks he’s a 50,000-foot-level strategic thinker but actually operates at the one-foot level all the time, or the woman who heads product development but can’t think beyond minor enhancements to the current design.
If you find yourself worried about hurting feelings, it’s a sign that you really need to have a performance counseling meeting to address the underlying issue. Don’t kick this particular can down the road; use the exclusion from the planning team as an opportunity to get your employee on the right track. Have a focused conversation about why they weren’t chosen to participate this time and give them insight into what they can do to make sure they will be chosen next time. It’s not a fun conversation to have, but there are two real benefits: First, you and your employee will be on the same page about performance requirements, and second, you won’t have an unproductive asset on the planning team.
Get Some Help
I also strongly recommend that you consider engaging outside help to facilitate the process. Building a strategic plan is a big undertaking that is critically important to your future. I’ve done it both with and without a planning consultant and found that having outside help dramatically improves the process and the outcome. There’s a ton of ground to cover, and having someone who has done it before will make it much more efficient.
Plus, using a facilitator will allow you to be a much more engaged participant. If you are facilitating the process, then you’re forced to focus on logistics and can’t focus all your attention on the content.
An independent third party can call people out for not participating or for getting off track far more effectively than you can. You can’t punt everything to a consultant; you still need to actively lead the process. It is your plan after all. But if you let someone else facilitate for you, you can be much more personally engaged and effective.
Capture Your Future is a series of articles bringing you practical insights gleaned from over 20 years’ building strategic plans for divisions of big public companies, medium-size privately held companies, and nonprofit organizations. Along the way I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned from doing the right things and sometimes the wrong things in building good strategic plans.
Other posts from the Capture Your Future series: