So once you’ve made the decision to move forward with strategic planning for your business, the next question is…
Should I do it myself or should I bring in a professional facilitator?
You may feel inclined to do it yourself and it’s certainly an option. Many business owners and CEOs choose to do so – either to save money or simply because they haven’t bought into the benefits of a professional facilitator. And for some of them, everything works out fine.
Unfortunately, most don’t get the results they’re looking for and they end up actually wasting money sitting in unproductive meetings. Not only does this fail to move the company forward, it can also be extremely detrimental to staff morale.
How can a professional strategic planning facilitator help you get better results?
In addition to specialized experience and expertise in the field, one of the most important benefits a strategic planning consultant has to offer is an unbiased, untainted viewpoint. The facilitator has not been influenced by what’s been going on in the company nor is he or she beholden to any of the participants like employees are.
Your facilitator’s entire focus is to help you and your team discover what’s working and what’s not working with the business, help guide participants to find solutions to problems and assist with choosing realistic, attainable goals that enhance what’s working. The facilitator will ensure your plan is clear about priorities and responsibilities, ensure action items are properly determined, help set a table of KPIs or OKRs and unite your entire team – from top to bottom – to propel the business to new heights.
To accomplish this, the facilitator:
- Works closely with you to understand your unique business needs & challenges
- Facilitates the planning process
- Helps you discover your best goals and strategies
- Guides in the effective execution of the plan
- Ensures your progress through regular follow-ups and updates
Let’s look at each one to get a feel for what’s involved.
Working with you and your people – CEO as participant
CEOs and company presidents often feel burdened and isolated, believing that they must spearhead everything the company does, including leading strategic planning sessions. But remember, as the leader, you can’t possibly expect to be an expert at everything that impacts your business.
An outside strategic planning facilitator allows the CEO to become a participant in the process. This can dramatically improve planning outcomes since the leader no longer has to worry about facilitating and can strictly focus on the ideas and issues being discussed. He or she is able to sit down at the planning table and work with the team on a more intimate level. This helps to create an environment of camaraderie and openness.
I’ve found that this kind of atmosphere really sparks enthusiasm and allows for a true sharing of ideas. An experienced facilitator capitalizes on this, and manages egos and personal agendas as well. It may take a while, but when participants realize that their contributions are valued they really begin to open up and contribute.
Facilitating the planning process
There’s nothing worse than sitting around a conference table wondering what comes next. Your professional consultant won’t let that happen. The strategic planning facilitator knows what to do because he or she has been in the same situation many times before.
The facilitator knows how to tailor the order of activities to your individual business needs and exactly what topics to cover, even the tough ones. Some of the areas covered could even include “taboo” subjects such as:
- Double standards
- Living contrary to company values, and
- Detrimental or individual agendas
A consultant will also:
- Make the CEO less intimidating, thereby giving “permission” for all to contribute.
- Keep order to the process, ensuring alignment of all projects.
- Allow new ideas to be discussed that might not have been considered before.
- Will push for “stretch” goals that cause you to reach farther than before.
- Make sure that the hard questions are asked and that answers given are not superficial.
- Help instill pride among team members and a feeling of ownership.
Finding the best goals and strategies
Ensuring that real, workable strategies are developed is the core reason for hiring a professional facilitator. We are often unaware of our own biases and limitations and an outside expert can add incredible value here. Some facilitators bring years of experience with them and they know the difference between a great strategy and a mediocre one. This will save you a lot of time because you won’t squander effort and resources on activities that ultimately won’t help achieve your goals. At the action item level, the facilitator will also help you weed out “busy work” from real tasks and assist you in prioritizing your projects to garner effective results.
Guiding in the execution
There are several steps to ensuring that definitive action is taken on your strategic plan after it’s outlined. Your facilitator can assist you here as well.
For example, each project and step of the plan needs to be assigned ownership and a due date. And that ownership must be assigned equitably. The strategic planning consultant will ensure that responsibilities are assigned to the appropriate people.
In addition, if your facilitator has past business and leadership experience, participants can ask questions during the execution phase about specific operating issues, experiences or processes when they’re not sure how to proceed with their assignment
Evaluation through follow-ups
Even the best strategic plans need to be followed up to ensure their success. As we all know, just because you and your team agree with what needs to be done, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.
At each follow-up meeting, project owners will be held accountable for results through documented progress reports. While most of your team will be able to complete their assignments, some won’t – and there may be some very valid reasons for this. Scheduled follow-ups allow for discussions and course corrections to ensure your plan remains flexible and relevant.
Keep in mind, a professional facilitator will not allow “fluff” during any of these meetings. He or she knows how to draw out real answers and won’t accept the standard “yes” or “no” responses. The only way to chart real progress is to obtain in-depth answers and solid, verifiable documentation.
As you can see, there are numerous advantages to working with a professional strategic planning consultant. He or she will likely save you not only time, but money as well.
Image Credit: Lee Roylland