Secrets from a Facilitator: Planning an Effective Strategy Process: Understand Retreat Limitations

Secrets from a Facilitator: Planning an Effective Strategy Process: Understand Retreat Limitations

Understand retreat limitations

Experience has taught me that organizations typically expect more of their annual retreat than the day or weekend can deliver. Everyone comes into the day with high hopes for team cohesion, fresh insights, a breakthrough idea or two, and a detailed plan for the year ahead. Retreats are the perfect forum for some group activities and not for others.

  • Retreats are effective for brainstorming, raising issues, building cohesion, and getting a general sense of your team’s feelings and perspectives on issues. They can surface possibilities and confirm realizations.
  • Retreats are not ideal for making big decisions. The nature of group dynamics involves improvisation, the need to take the ideas offered and move them forward. Your group will fluctuate between diverging views and converging realizations. That natural give-and-take, and the real-time nature of groups of humans processing information in real-time, means your group will likely be less effective than you might assume.

Go into your retreat with a clear-eyed view of possible achievements and design a more comprehensive process to get you to success with follow-up tasks, plan drafts, and agreed-upon deadlines to complete the strategy process.

Consider your facilitator

A facilitator is a bit like a detective. We listen and look for clues. My goal is to ascertain whether my client’s desired outcomes are realistic and manage expectations to align with reality.

Making the most of your process begins with clarifying expectations. An experienced facilitator can help you determine what’s feasible and essential to accomplish during the retreat and the overall process.  

  • What are the achievements? Where did your team gain traction? What goals remain unfinished? 
  • What must you achieve this year? The last year was unprecedented, and this year is unusual too.

Given the new realities of post-pandemic growth, the right facilitator will make a big difference this year. Here’s to making the most of your retreat and planning process.

Do you need a facilitator for your next strategy retreat? Karla Raines is available to take on a few, select engagements in 2021. Click here for inquiries.

 

Secrets from a Facilitator – Clarify Expectations (Pt. 1)

Secrets from a Facilitator – Clarify Expectations (Pt. 1)

On CEO Blog Nation, Karla Raines lays out three master tips for facilitating effective strategy retreats. Make this year’s board retreat memorable. You can find these tips on our website or in “Secrets from a Facilitator: Planning an Effective Strategy Process.” 

The first quarter of 2021 is in the rearview mirror, and you can see the year speeding up with each passing week. It’s time to prepare for your 2022 strategy process. The unprecedented nature of last year and the beginning of 2021 remind us that the usual approaches won’t do when complexity and uncertainty continue to shape the future. Who would have envisioned the GameStop mania or the Suez Canal freighter blockage?  

I’ve facilitated hundreds of retreats and strategy processes over the years. My advice for 2021 

  1. Clarify expectations. 
  2. Understand retreat limitations. 
  3. Consider your facilitator.  

    Clarify expectations 

    I’ve seen it all—the rogue board members with conflicts of interest, the executive team members vying for the CEO’s job along with the interim, and a focus on the tactical disguised as the strategic. Group dynamics and process design can undermine or enhance success. The desired outcome? A consensus-based plan of action based on three to five strategic decisions.   

    I encourage you to optimize your approaches to people, processes, and products.  

    • People Take stock of your team. How ready is the group to make consensus-based decisions?  Are there underlying personal agendas that might interfere with group decision-making? Has the team composition changed? How has remote work impacted relationships? Does the group have a track record of success in strategic decision-making? The greater the need to align, the more time required for an effective group process, especially when high-stakes decisions are involved.

    • Process Take a look at your approach. An effective process yields the necessary decisions. Your first task in preparing for success is to get clear on the scope and scale of the decisions at hand. How clear is the group about the choices under consideration? Is everyone up-to-speed on the data? What are the strategic options at hand? Does the team agree upon the implications? Your team might benefit from an enhanced process to create a shared understanding of the data insights and prepare for effective strategy setting and planning

    • Product Give your classic framework a review. Your team may have a tried-and-true plan framework that is updated annually. Given the nature of change in 2020, now is the time to update the planning framework. For example, how well do you appreciate your customers as whole people? Their needs and expectations have likely changed notably, too, and you’ll want to update your assumptions. Now is the time to determine the pre-work required to understand the external context, competitors, and customers. It is also time to review and update your plan document to accelerate success into 2022. 
    Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist (Part 4/4)

    Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist (Part 4/4)

    Finally, engage your people with purpose and strategy. Companies large and small are on a quest for a deeper meaning. Consumers, especially younger generations, demand it. You understand its importance for talent recruitment, retention, and motivation. You can add tremendous value here. Align your company’s strategy with its purpose. Both are stronger when the connection is clear. Your purpose conveys your company’s reason for being the strategic plan your company’s future direction. Your people care deeply about both. Do not relegate purpose to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Claim its centrality to your ethos and culture, and watch it power your differentiation strategy.   

    I can see it now. You have convinced the board of directors that the investment makes sense. The strategy process revealed original insights with the power to drive your company’s future success. Your differentiation strategy is at hand, and your team is poised for implementation. Your moment has been met.  

    This piece was originally published in the March 2021 edition of HR.COM’s Personal Excellence publication. To read Part 3 on Differentiationzone.com, click here.

    Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist (Part 3/4)

    Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist (Part 3/4)

    My second recommendation is to get comfortable with complexity and ambiguity. Each of us is called to provide clarity and focus as the world swirls around us. Welcome to the vanguard. The terrain is uncharted territory for us all. You are at the forefront, sharpening your prowess just-in-time as your company navigates unexpected competitor moves, unresolved supply chain snafus, talent shortages, and the need to stand out in the marketplace. 

    If your company is not pursuing a cost strategy, then know that differentiation is your aim. This is your opportunity to shine. Your company is vying for heart, head, and market share from your desired customers. You cannot take the competition for granted. Your customers evaluate your company against its peers across industries and sectors, using the power of their smartphones and tablets. Does your company stand out?  

    Your company’s future strategy must communicate its unique distinction in the marketplace. That is your sought-after competitive advantage. That distinction fuels your strategy statement as you set your sights on a timebound objective with a clear-eyed view of your target markets. Then watch how that clarity creates a rallying cry for your people. 

    … 

    This is Part 3 of a 4-part article. Stay tuned for the rest of this leadership series. Part 4 will be posted next week. Read the previous entry here.

    This piece was originally published in the March 2021 edition of HR.COM’s Personal Excellence publication. 

    Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist – (Part 2/4)

    Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist – (Part 2/4)

    First-hand observation pinpoints the defining attributes of leaders ready to make bold steps. Here’s my first tip. Get comfortable with the concept of strategy. The term is often used interchangeably with tactic when it is not. A strategy is directional. It sets your company’s future course of action or game plan. It is not a problem to be solved—a tactic— or an aspiration to be envisioned. That is a vision.  

    In my experience, most groups, regardless of title, are primarily comprised of tacticians and visionaries. The former typically outnumber the latter. The next time you participate in a strategy process, note where people’s brains naturally go. Are they inclined to see the world as a problem searching for a solution or a dream to grab? 

    You aim to be the person with a keen ability to connect the dots and see the future path. You will add tremendous value to the process and propel your career when you can think in multi-year segments and communicate the way forward. This skill is worth mastering. After all, a multi-year strategy involves risk-taking and a commitment to a chosen direction. Your ability to communicate the direction and align talent and resources to achieve it will be a sought-after skill regardless of your title or career goal. 

    … 

    This is Part 2 of a 4-part article. Stay tuned for the rest of this leadership series. Part 3 will be posted next week. Read the previous entry here.

    This piece was originally published in the March 2021 edition of HR.COM’s Personal Excellence publication. 

    Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist – Introduction (Part 1/4)

    Lessons in Leadership from a Master Strategist – Introduction (Part 1/4)

    My career is defined by board room moments when I needed to educate, persuade, convince, and motivate leaders to embrace unique strategic opportunities. I am referring to senior teams and boards of directors making high-stakes decisions of multi-year consequences involving notable investments. Following the meeting, they would set about convincing staff and stakeholders that change was desired, not merely necessary, and the calculated risks worthwhile.  

    Those leadership moments held the power to change each company’s future. Would the executives resonate with the empathy-based and data-driven customer insights? Would they embrace their unique competitive advantage? Did they have the discipline to say “no” to say “yes?” Or would they shy away, stuck in their comfortable world view, furrowing their brows when the data did not align with their preferred conclusions?  

    The answers to those questions depended on who was in the room. Experience taught me what to spot. I was on the lookout for demonstrated strategic understanding, comfort with uncertainty, and the resolve to set aside today’s pressing issues and lofty aspirations. Those characteristics would define the moment’s success.  

    I view my consultant role as that of a leader walking alongside my client. At first, I need to stay several steps ahead as I anticipate unique opportunities to align with their deeper purpose and capitalize on trends with the potential to catalyze growth. Then, at the right time, I step aside so my client can lead as the process tips towards completion. Welcome to strategic leadership.

    … 

    This is Part 1 of a 4-part article. Stay tuned for the rest of this leadership series. Part 2 will be posted next week. 

    This piece was originally published in the March 2021 edition of HR.COM’s Personal Excellence publication.