·You do not need to “know” the organization’s business—but you do need to understand business, planning, organizations and group facilitation. ·The process you bring and your planning leadership are key. ·The planning team has the answers—your job is to help them find them. ·You must work the process and lead to succeed. ·If they had it all figured out you would not be here. ·You need to make it necessary for the planning team to “suspend their disbelief, and trust and participate” for the most useful group result.
In pre-meeting(s) with the organizational leader:
·Determine “what hurts?” ·Look for “the real problem.” ·Define what “success” in the planning effort will be. ·Work to understand the organization’s culture: open or closed, top down or participative, rule driven or informal, risk taking or slow to move, etc. ·Assess the resources available to the organization for planning and follow-through. ·Determine the priority being put on the planning effort and likelihood of follow-through – and raise the priority and likelihood of follow-through if they are low. ·Identify the planning team participants and their qualifications. ·Ask about “allies and enemies” to be encountered in the planning process. ·Determine planning group size and number of sessions. ·Determine the planning schedule. ·Agree on how the invitation to the process will be created and sent. ·Determine where the planning will occur and the room set-up. ·Identify needed materials for each session. ·Identify deliverables from each session and the process.
·Do your homework before each session and come early and fully prepared. ·Check the room set-up well before the session is to start. ·Have each participant introduce himself or herself. ·Establish your role and credentials. ·Follow the script as much as possible – it is time tested in many organizations and will deliver results in a most effective manner. ·Remember: They are planning, you aren’t; you are leading the process. ·Everyone talks; don’t let anyone be a wallflower. ·No one talks too much; you control the sessions, they don’t. ·Read and respond to body language. ·No idea is bad (but it may not be an idea that will be followed through on in the process). ·Seek consensus or “agree to disagree” to move ahead. ·Get understanding and buy-in by continually restating and reframing. ·Probe and challenge to be sure you - and they – understand and that points, observations and decisions are valid. ·Use a “parking lot” – write down for all to see ideas and points offered that may have validity but are not appropriate for the task at hand, and state that these will be considered later in the process (and consider them at a later time if they are appropriate, relevant or need to be addressed for “political” reasons or buy-in). ·Stay on task and on schedule—start and finish on time. ·Make it safe for the participants to speak their mind. ·Be respectful and don’t violate the organization’s “norms” except with serious forethought (getting license from the organizational leader as appropriate). ·Keep the sessions light and open by using humor and personal experience —but be brief. ·Look for holes in thinking and challenge assumptions. ·Don’t let the group ignore “the elephant in the room” that you see – make the group accountable to reality and the outside world. ·Give assignments and expect accountability. ·Remember, “The animals are not in charge of the zoo.” ·But also remember: It’s their organization and plan, not yours. ·At the close of the meeting, review the work for them…and afterwards, review it for you and your continuing responsibility to the organization. ·Be open to rethinking how the process unfolds based on how the sessions are progressing. ·Avoid a “rush to judgment.” ·Be open to rethinking earlier conclusions and reopening discussion on points previously thought to be settled. ·Keep work product focused and sharp ·Invite feedback to you any time—but encourage sharing the feedback with the entire planning team. ·Deliver the reports, analyses, documents and feedback to the planning team and the organizational leader in the agreed-on and expected form and timeframe. ·Advocate and facilitate building wider consensus through sharing the planning work with the wider organization and other stakeholders. ·Follow up as agreed and otherwise after the planning sessions to help assure the planning follow-up is occurring and to set the stage for revisiting and updating the plan in the future.
A final “hint” for success:Find and use one or more outside professionals who can be your sounding board as your encounter questions and challenges in the strategic planning facilitation process.