Before a Strategic Planning Session: Get all key stakeholders involved

When scheduling a strategic planning session, you’ve got to get all of the key stakeholders involved. Find out who needs to be at this meeting.

Make sure you get the entire board there. If you have volunteers on some committees that you think would be useful to be there as well, be sure to include them. Be sure to include some key staff members, especially your executive director and if you have some senior managers whose input would be useful, be sure to include them in the strategic planning session as well.

A word of caution though. You don’t want to have too many people in the room. The more people you have, the more ideas you’ll have which can be good and bad. With more people there will be more discussion. Typically for every person you add to a meeting, you add about 30 minutes to an hour of discussion. So keep that in mind when you’re planning who will be at your next session.

Try to limit your group size to anywhere between 8 to 15 people. This is a nice and manageable size.

Before a Strategic Planning Session: Send questions to review in advance

Get everyone working in advance of the planning session by sending them questions that they can review and contemplate. Here are three sample questions that you can ask and these are three questions that I asked this particular board at Scw’exmx Child & Family Services Society.

1. Why is this the right time for a planning session?

What’s going on right now that makes having this session important or critical? Is it a new board? Do you have a new president? Have you just hired a new executive director? Is there a change in government either the federal or the provincial level? What’s happening right now that makes this strategic planning session important?

2. What do you hope to accomplish during this session?

It’s important to find out what everyone wants to get out of the session and to manage expectations. For example, you might have some people coming to the session, wanting clarity on direction. You may have others that come to the planning session with a specific agenda. Maybe they want to embark on a new initiative or they want to talk about new programs or policies.

In specific, you know specifically so it would be really useful to the facilitator and for everybody involved to have a sense in advance. What are some of the big picture ideas that we’re going to talk about? So, number one is why is this a good time for this planning session? Number two, what do you hope to achieve or accomplish during the session?

Question number three that you want to ask the board in advance is how will you know this session was successful? How will you know that this session wasn’t a complete waste of your time? How will you know that there was value in the planning session? So you might find some overlap and answers between question number two and question number three or you might find something completely different. So, with this group that I worked with the last two days. Overwhelmingly, they felt that they knew that the session would be successful if they left with clear action items and goals that they could start working on tomorrow. That was so important for them to not just come up with these pie-in-the-sky ideas that just sit there and never get touched. So, they wanted to leave clearly with tangible goals and action items that they could start working on tomorrow. So that was really awesome and that was an objective that I wrote on the flip chart and just kept it in the front of the room for all to see for the two days. So, there would be no doubt about what we’re working towards and how we will define success at the end of the session. So, those were some elements on what to do before the planning session.

Recap

Tip 1: Be sure to include some key staff members, especially your executive director, key stakeholders and managers. However, limit it between 8 to 15 people.

Tip 2: Get them to work in advance before the session by asking this question:

  • Why is this the right time for a planning session?
  • What do you hope to accomplish during this session?
  • How will you know this session was successful?

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About Tom (TJ) Abbott

Tom (TJ) Abbott, CSP is the Managing Director of AMC NPO Solutions and an authority on Governance. He has over 25 years experience as CEO, President and board director of several not-for-profit organizations. Tom has also spoken in over 20 countries.

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