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17, November 2017

3 ½ Reasons To Use An Outside Facilitator For Strategic Planning

For many companies, this is the time of year for strategic planning. It’s when senior leadership huddles for days in conference rooms as they cover the walls with giant Post-It notes in an effort to come up with their big picture plans for the following calendar year.

I’ve worked with hundreds of companies to help them develop (and execute) their strategic plans. Here are some of my observations from 30,000 feet:

  • Companies that consistently grow and succeed almost always have strong strategic plans. Businesses that struggle often don’t.
  • A good strategic plan with excellent management pull-through is better than a perfect strategic plan that gets forgotten after Q1.
  • Many “strategic plans” are really just lists of tactical to do items, not actual strategy. They’re often heavily weighted toward the first quarter, with little planned for the second half of the year.
  • Only a small percentage of companies ultimately achieve their strategic goals. Yet those same companies often are the market leaders.

Here are the 3 ½ reasons why it makes sense to use an outside facilitator for your next strategic planning session.

1  Speak truth to power. Good outside moderators ask the questions that insiders may avoid. They dig deep into the most important issues and steer clear of detours.

2  Ideas flow. Professional facilitators know how to get people thinking creatively and sharing those ideas. They get everyone participating, draw out the best thoughts and politely keep the meeting on track.

3  Better decisions are made. Some organizations struggle to build consensus and make decisions. Great facilitators “zoom in and zoom out,” meaning they go deep into important topics and sidebar others. They know when there are strong ideas on the table and it’s time to commit to a plan.

3 1/2  Wisdom, instinct and experience. As you might expect, these intangibles can make all the difference.

Here’s an example. A while back I helped a medium-sized organization develop their strategic plan. It was a two-day offsite meeting with their top 25 stakeholders. At one point the topic turned to the most important issue facing the group: should they remain independent or merge with another firm.

While the discussion continued, I asked the team to stand up and do a preliminary vote with their feet: those who favored independence went to one side of the room while those who leaned toward a merger went to the other. When the dust settled there were 12 people on one side and another dozen on the other. That’s when I noticed the quietest participant standing by herself in the center of the room, so I asked her what she was thinking.

Her idea was different and groundbreaking. After greater discussion, I again asked the group to vote with their feet. This time nearly everyone joined the brave pioneer in the middle of the room.

In the hands of another facilitator, the brilliant idea from the most unassuming person in the room might never have been heard. And it would have changed that company’s destiny forever.

If your organization is looking to get the most out of your strategic planning process, please give me a call. I promise you’ll get all 3 ½.

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