3. Decide When to Plan.
It can be hard to choose dates when all the key players will be free and able to attend. On regular workdays, they may feel they cannot leave work completely unattended by any management. On non-workdays (if you have those) there will be family time and events to contend with.
This planning is important, though, and deserves priority. Close for a day if you have to. Train other employees to at least handle things for a day so you can all be away. Set the schedule to help (see no. 4 below). But make time to get this done.
4. Set the Agenda.
The content of your strategic planning sessions will change over time. Early in the company’s life, you will begin by focusing on big issues like a vision statement or mission statement, development of the business’s product and service offerings, deciding what your competitive advantage is (are you focusing on price, quality, or service?), looking at competition and perhaps a marketing plan. You will also take time to set up the long-term exit strategy. An agenda will keep the meeting moving and give people an opportunity to get their thoughts together before the meeting.
You can also build time into the schedule to allow managers to call back to the office and handle any important or urgent questions from staff. Take breaks between topics to allow people to stretch and refresh their minds. Take a lunch break but have lunch brought in if you can, so you don’t break your rhythm too much. If you have planned a two-day retreat, make a plan for dinner (go out together or cook a meal together at the Airbnb). Limit day two to half a day and have lunch together before you head home.
On the agenda, identify who will lead each session, and who will take notes. The leader’s job is not to present, it is to facilitate the discussion, ensure everyone is heard, and build consensus. The leader should sum up conclusions clearly and set any action items and responsible parties.
Each discussion topic should end with a decision and assigned actions – and the leader states those clearly so that the secretary can record them and so that anyone in the room who does not agree that the summation was accurate can speak up. The goal is to build a shared vision and consensus.
One person (like a consultant) can lead all sessions, or you can have different people lead each session. In general, I don’t like the head owner or CEO to lead all the sessions – too much power at the front of the room stifles discussion and innovation. In fact, the owner or CEO should try to speak last and get the benefit of everyone else’s ideas before weighing in, where possible.
5. Assign Homework.
Often, these planning sessions will involve finance, and so tasking the CFO/controller/treasurer with bringing current financial statements is an example of homework that is often needed.
Depending on the topics to be discussed, you may have other homework to assign. Any data you predict the group will need to make decisions on any topic should be assigned to someone for homework. Sometimes, the homework will be presented by that person at the start of a topic, and sometimes they will just have the information prepared for reference during the discussions.
Often, during the discussion of a topic, the group will find it wants other information or data in order to make a decision. No worries – add that topic to the agenda for the next meeting and assign gathering that needed data as homework for someone.