In developing their annual strategic plan, many companies go offsite and “retreat”. I often cringe when hearing this term, although I heartily endorse the process. My issue is the image the label "retreat" creates in the mind. Retreating is an inherently defensive and reactionary move that the leaders of the company are leaving the field with their tails between their legs. This is certainly the perspective the non-attending employees have when their leadership “retreats”.
They are subconsciously asking themselves:
• Are we losing? • Why are they hiding? • Is it time to wave the white flag? • Will we be able to keep our personal firearms and horses?
But the need for having such a meeting is essential to prepare for the unknowns in the future. The invested time in a focused, non-interrupted session will clearly pay great dividends the coming months.
I suggest you consider an alternative label for your strategic planning event. Depending on the focus and circumstances, it can be called a strategic planning meeting, a company renovation or renewal, a planning rally, or in my southern vernacular, a company revival. Read these titles aloud and see how you emotionally react. My guess is your co-participants will come into the session with vastly different mindsets depending on the term you chose.
Having participated in and facilitated such gatherings in corporate, government, non-profit and small business environments, there are a few points that can make or break the event.
Get into a comfortable, neutral setting. Sorry, the boss’s house does not qualify. Basic physical needs need to be satisfied so that the brain will be fully powered up for the tasks at hand.
Establish an “Up Front Contract” for the event. This is often accomplished through the use of a formal, written agenda that is adopted before, or very early in the event.
Have clearly defined outcomes. Let your co-participants know and agree to the expectations of the event.
Create an atmosphere of safe and open communication. I call this a Temenos. C.G. Jung relates the temenos to the spellbinding or magic circle, which acts as a 'square space' or 'safe spot' where mental 'work' can take place.
Have clear assignments and deliverables included who is to do what, and by when as follow ups. These need to be clearly documented shortly after the event.
Have a process for follow up creating accountability and resulting in keeping the plan alive. The biggest mistakes that result from these retreats is that massive binders are produced and placed squarely on a credenza or bookcase and never looked at again.
Wow, this looks like a lot of work just in preparing, running and following up on the event. Yes, it is and as a participant you have to choose between being in the meeting or leading the meeting. The result of trying to do both is a recipe for compromise and the results will not be satisfactory.
Here are some of the costs of the company leader trying to do both:
• Time is wasted.
• Participants don’t feel heard and sabotage the decisions. • Participants feel alienated. • Participants withdraw and withhold vital information. • Participants get frustrated and have unproductive conflict. • Participants get hurt and the team is wounded. • The team stalls. • The meeting falls apart.
My final tip for a successful planning event is to utilize a trained and experienced facilitator. Because the facilitator does not have their own agenda, and has nothing at risk, they will:
Manage meeting time so it is used efficiently. Meeting time is extremely expensive, when you consider all of the person-hours, travel, etc., so this is a high priority.
Make sure everyone feels heard. This increases “buy in” to whatever decisions the group makes, which increases the likelihood that everyone will do their part in the future.
Help people find common ground, come to agreements, make decisions
Help the team surface the individual and collective undercurrents
Help the team manage conflicts and come to some resolution
Make sure that the next actions are clear and that all understand what is to happen in the future
Those who move forward without a plan are indeed planning to fail. The strategic planning event, however it is labeled, is an essential best practice to do, and to do right!
Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings over three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at www.theHRGuy.biz