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Monday, August 10, 2009

Best Practices For A Strategic Planning Retreat

Based on years of experience, here's what we see the typical small or mid-sized business go through when they're planning a strategic planning off-site retreat:

Scenario: The CEO wants to get his/her team working together to build a plan for the coming year or two. The senior leadership team is buzzing about the excitement. Everyone is looking forward to having some input on the plan.

The planning retreat is held off-site during a two day session, which everyone finds rewarding and exhausting. They come out of the session with a clear set of goals and an action plan. Everyone has talked about what they are going to do differently to make sure it does. The team feels energized and looks forward to getting back to work.

Then what happens?

The senior leadership team goes back to work and they face the chaos that attacks their everyday lives and business once again.

  • An important customer calls with special requests.
  • A key employee decides to leave.
  • An unexpected product problem emerges.
  • The auditor tells you that you need better controls.
  • Your kid brings home a poor report card and needs more help with their homework.
  • That charity you got involved with needs help fundraising.
  • That industry committee you agreed to chair needs more attention.

The strategies, goals and action plan you put in place seem to fade into the background.

You keep an eye on the financial statements occasionally, and hope it works out. At some point, the financial statements take a turn for the worse, and you jump back in, trying to figure out what’s going on and what you need to change.

Unfortunately, if you don’t know how to execute, strategic planning off-sites don’t work.

Before you commit to conducting one more strategic planning retreat, ask yourself:

  • Does your senior leadership team know how to make a real commitment, not just a “yes I’m on board” commitment, but a “yes I will get this done and I will stake my bonus on it” commitment?
  • Does your organization have the skills it needs to execute?
  • Can you focus?
  • Can you communicate the mission, vision, values and strategic direction of the company?
  • Can you drive active accountability - with everyone in the organization?
  • Are you willing to dedicate time - not only to the strategic planning process, but communicating it so your team members are able to execute your strategy?

BOTTOMLINE: Execution is hard work. It requires a relentless focus, commitment and discipline. Before you invest a lot in developing strategy, invest in the skills and resources required to execute strategy. If you’re not ready or capable of executing, a strategic planning retreat offsite is most likely -- another waste of time.

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