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Monday, July 06, 2009

Effective Planning Retreat Best Practices

For business leaders who go on an annual planning retreat or "off-site", here's an article from the Harvard Business Review about "Off-Sites that Work"

Some key considerations:

  • Of all the meetings top executives go to in a year, none is more important than the strategy off-site, where the most essential conversations for the future of the business occur. Yet it is the rare management team that can say its strategy off-site truly changed the way the business is run.
  • At best, participants do some vague direction setting and work on team-building skills; at worst, they write off the retreat as a waste of time and resources. It needn’t be like that.

Here's a a set of best practices that businesses can use to make the most of this planning retreat process:

  • Essentially, the problem with most strategy off-sites is that they’re insufficiently structured. People think that if you schedule a meeting, invite top leaders (and perhaps an outside expert), and block off units of time to discuss big subjects, the rest will take care of itself. In reality, formlessness leads to aimlessness.

  • Oddly enough, only rigorously designed meetings give rise to truly candid strategy discussions. That rigor starts before the meeting, when the scope of the matters discussed must be limited, the participant list drawn up accordingly, the relevant materials (and only those) sent out and absorbed, and a detailed agenda established.

  • During the meeting, the pace and quality of the conversation can be managed through attention to politics and by using carefully tailored frameworks, decision points, and group exercises.

  • After the meeting, an action plan ensures clear accountability and follow-through."

BOTTOMLINE: "If you and your executive team spend four days a year rafting down rivers together, you’ll eventually get good at rafting down rivers.

Spend four days a year having well-designed strategy conversations together, and you will transform your annual off-site from a meaningless junket into a genuine turning point for your business."

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