Strategic Planning:

To Facilitate, Or Not Facilitate? That is the question.

Do you love or dread Strategic Planning meetings? 

Some run smoothly: collaboration is textbook perfect, ideas flow freely and all aligns with the company purpose.

Others are nothing more than a chaotic attempt at herding cats*.

The trick is creating an atmosphere of collaboration, drive and direction from a group of people bonded only by their place of work. Strategy meetings often go off on tangents into workplace or HR issues and nit-picking actions on projects and it can take a bit of effort to rise above this.

The solution, in most cases, is to hire a strategic planning facilitator from outside of the organisation. 

Have you considered hiring a strategic planning facilitator?

If so, how do you choose a facilitator who will suit your organisation?

5 Good Reasons to Engage a Strategic Planning Facilitator

#1   Expertise + Efficiency

The main reason organisations engage a strategic planning facilitator is for their expertise in applying different approaches, modelling and engagement to the development of strategy.

This takes the pressure off management to act as both contributor and facilitator in what should be a collaborative process.  It also means that the organisation ends up with a strategic document that they can utilise in future planning, based on best business practice and tailored to the organisation’s needs.

strategy-going-in-circles

# 2   Minute-Keeper + Negotiator

A strategic planning facilitator keeps track of the conversation, noting suggestions, actions and decisions, and making sure ideas are heard and explored properly. This helps maintain the focus of the meeting so participants are free to focus on idea generation. Facilitators can also step in when conversation gets heated or side-tracked and help mitigate perceived bias.

A key part of the facilitator’s role is to be able to piece together discussion points, ideas, suggestions, etc., and then be able to prioritise them into whether they form part of the strategic direction, or whether they form other actions or projects to support the overall strategy, or perhaps simply be issues to explore at a later date.

Vintage Secretaries
businesscat-thinking-outside-the-box

#3   An Outsider's Perspective

Technological developments and consumer trends are constantly changing, even in industry sectors traditionally immune to such changes. A fresh pair of eyes from outside your own sector can offer interesting perspectives when it comes to sharing knowledge and trends of what other organisations and sectors are going through.

Engaging a facilitator with knowledge from outside your own sector, and/or interests in future workplace trends is a boon for a good strategy session.

#4   Working With Egos

It’s not just over-confident egos that can get in the way of good strategy. Shy, unconfident and uncooperative egos also impede strategy by not contributing fully.

A good strategic facilitator can help draw such people in to the process, recognising that all voices have the capacity to add value.

#5   Avoid Death By Committee

Strategy facilitators help direct the strategic planning committee’s energies, so that everyone is aware of what their role in the planning process entails, what the aim of the planning process is, and also what the planning process will not involve (i.e. office politics, marketing plans, HR issues, etc).

deathbycommittee

Strategy is not about incorporating every individual’s pet project, or airing personal agendas. However, what often gets lost in strategic planning sessions is the strategy itself, as Roger L. Martin decries in ‘The Big Lie of Strategic Planning’. A strategy facilitator makes sure the focus remains on strategy, not on costing or project planning.

Tips for Choosing a
Strategic Planning Facilitator

The right strategic planning facilitator for your organisation depends on so many variables it’s often difficult to get right. The main skills you are going to look for will depend on what you want to get out of the session.

Are you looking for someone to drive the whole process or just part of it, take first-timers through it, deal with difficult stakeholders, combine graphic recording of ideas with note-taking for a formal report?

Forget business jargon for a moment.

These are the skills you want in a strategy facilitator:

  • People Skills

You might call them soft skills or communication skills, but ultimately, you want someone with exceptional people skills to accommodate the personalities and quirks of all stakeholders and draw them into the conversation.

 

  • Curiosity

An ability to question participants to draw out underlying assumptions and experiences.

 

  • General Knowledge

An understanding and appreciation of the differences and similarities between different organisations, industries and sectors.

 

  • Specific Application

Not bringing a cookie-cutter approach to an organisation, especially if the facilitator has worked with similar companies in the past – each organisation should be able to create their own, specific strategic direction.

 

  • Listening, not Assuming

Listening to all stakeholders and being able to translate those different voices into a strategy document without bias or underlying assumptions about the profession, industry or people.

 

So now you know all about hiring a facilitator for your next strategic planning session, what's next?

*(Qualified Cat-herder)