18 Jan Business & Strategic Planning – setting up your off site planning session for success
As businesses grow and develop over time, there is often a shift required in how business strategy development and planning takes place. From the early days where a plan was often scratched out on an A4 pad or white board in the Managing Director’s office, as Businesses grow they will often get great benefit from engaging a broader cross section of staff in the planning process. Running an off-site business planning workshop can be a great way of generating buy-in to the organisation’s direction and goals, but can also be a costly exercise. Here’s a few tips to help maximise the return on investment from your off site business planning workshop:
Invest the necessary time to effectively plan the workshop
Whilst you may have an incredibly talented team who are more than capable of leading their own discussion, putting the necessary time into planning an off-site workshop will help maximise the effectiveness of the workshop and also helps to show that you are serious about achieving real outcomes from the investment. When building your agenda identify not only what you want to discuss, but also what you want to achieve from each discussion. This will help you keep things on track during the workshop. It’s a good idea to distribute the agenda and objectives prior to the workshop to ensure that the team come prepared to talk about the topics.
Use an external facilitator
Skilled facilitators can be an invaluable way of ensuring the success of your workshop. By having a neutral person facilitate the process, it allows the senior leadership team to get more involved in the group discussions without appearing to be driving any particular agenda. A good facilitator will also help by summarising, clarifying and reinforcing key points as the discussion continues – ensuring that key themes are captured and agreed. You’ll also be amazed at what great discussion can be generated when someone from outside of the business starts asking a few ‘simple’ questions! Using an external facilitator doesn’t take away the focus on management and other staff having a key presence – time in the agenda should always be set aside for formal updates from the relevant management or staff representative. A good facilitator should manage the workshop ‘process’ in a way that allows management and staff to participate more and to focus on the key topics and business issues.
Gather feedback prior to the workshop to help focus the discussion
A technique that we often use at TCS is to distribute an on-line survey to workshop participants prior to the session. This survey is usually pretty short and simple and allows participants to provide some key feedback prior to the session starting on topics such as; strengths / weaknesses, recent performance, key opportunities etc. A summary of this feedback can then be presented to help generate discussion. This means that the time in the workshop can be optimised and focused on areas of agreed concern or interest. If you want to really generate some discussion, try getting some feedback from your clients or stakeholders as an input into the discussion as well. At TCS we use survey monkey as our on-line survey tool – www.surveymonkey.com
Analyse broadly, but keep the action plans targeted
Having some broad ranging discussions at business planning sessions is a great way of getting information and ensuring everyone in the workshop has some input – but when it comes to agreeing on a set of priority actions it is best to keep things targeted and brief. Whilst there may be a whole range of risks and issues to consider, we would always advise our clients to keep the list of business priorities to something very digestible and manageable. We have found that clients have had the most success in terms of making good progress against their business planning priorities when they have focused on 5 or 6 key things to take forward.
Assign responsibility to take things forward
Accountability is key in making sure things get taken from the workshop and put into practice. Make sure that you identify some names against the key action items or tasks and commit to timeframes. Be careful not to load up one or two individuals with all the follow up items – share the load as much as possible.
Commit to follow up and review
Whilst there is benefit simply in getting a group of your staff together in a workshop to go through this process, the real returns are gained by taking some of the ideas and implementing them back into the workplace. As soon as possible after the workshop it’s a good idea to send out a summary of the key discussion items and agreed strategies. Spend some time with the staff responsible for implementing any action items in the weeks and months following the workshop and keep the whole group informed about progress. When it comes time for the next off site workshop, spend some time at the start of the session analysing how much progress you made since last time.
Encourage social interaction, but everything in moderation!
Positive social interaction is a key feature of high performing teams. Off-site workshops often present the opportunity for team dinners or functions. Whilst these can be a very positive and beneficial events it’s important to maintain the balance between business and pleasure. Leaders in the group need to send the right message by not over-indulging during any social function if the workshop is set to continue the next day. To get the most out of the day 2 session, you’ll need your staff to be at their very best!
TCS has run these type of workshops for clients in a number of industries and locations. Please contact our Managing Director via firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss any upcoming planning workshops for your business