Over the years, I’ve worked with numerous organisations to help create more effective, productive and engaging strategies. The 5 P’s of productive meetings is one of the tools we use to help businesses transform meetings and it strikes me how especially important these principles are to the strategic planning process.
Since you’ll complete your strategic planning at meetings, following the 5 P’s of productive meetings ensures that you approach them with the right mindset. Following these principles enables you to conduct an effective process, to be clear on the decisions that you will make, and to set yourself up with the best plan to execute on your strategic priorities.
Here are the 5 P’s as they apply to strategic planning meetings:
The purpose of your strategic planning is to identify the few key priorities for your business, These can be long term strategic moves that could take several years to fully implement or the projects that, when worked on over the next quarter, will drive your business in the direction necessary to achieve those long term strategic moves.
At a strategic planning meeting you need to be prepared to have a robust debate that confronts the current reality and that allows people to challenge each other. You need to be prepared to make difficult decisions on what to do and what not to do. Leaders should be prepared to be vulnerable, truly accepting what has not gone well and what is no longer driving your success. They need to understand and accept that some things will need to change to correct your course.
Most importantly, of all you need to be prepared to commit, one hundred percent, to decisions that you may, personally, have disagreed with during the course of the day. Being absolutely clear in advance that the purpose of the day is to make, align with and commit to these decisions will set your strategic planning meeting up for success.
To get to the point where you are in a position to make big decisions during your strategic planning meetings, preparation is critical.
All team members should complete some pre-work in advance of the meeting. Taking time to reflect on the previous quarter with regard to what was achieved, what went well and also what could have gone better creates awareness around changes that we can make to improve execution in future.
We want everybody in the business to have completed this work in time to share with their immediate team so that debates and discussions are held in advance of the day itself.
As not everybody can participate in the day itself this preparation is vitally important, especially sharing of opinions so that the decision making team are equipped with sufficient information to make the best decisions on the day.
Analysing your actual performance versus expectation and the causes of variation can involve getting down in the trenches and understanding the numbers and processes deeply. By performing this analysis individually and in appropriate teams (Sales, operations etc) in advance you will gain greater alignment in your current reality, an essential part of setting challenging but realistic goals for the future.
When people see that the effort they put into preparation has had a significant impact on the decisions and direction that are decided buy in increases dramatically. Those that plan the fight don’t fight the plan is a common way of expressing this.
A good strategic planning meeting follows a specific process, all set out with the intention of arriving at the end of the day with good decisions and carefully selected strategic projects for the quarter.
When working through our strategic planning process I talk about context a lot. Each prework exercise we set up, each question we ask and each decision we ask for is about setting the context for the next part of the discussion.
Ideally, each planning session is part of a longer strategic process. I take RESULTS clients through a strategic planning session each quarter, and so each session takes place in the context of the four we will hold over the course of the year.
That’s important, because it allows me to conduct a ‘deep dive’ exercise at each one. We analyze one part of their strategic plan in more detail, cycling through the vision, the strategic positioning and two execution components. That means that each section gets a thorough review each year, and since everyone knows that, they can dive deep into each topic, knowing that nothing will be skipped.
That process ensures that our decision making is based on our current reality and that our thurough consideration leads us to thuroughly sound decisions. That’s how a good process helps you and your team make the best use of your time.
Everybody can be, and should be, involved in framing the discussion even though not everyone can be included in the strategic planning day itself. The decisions that need to be made require focus and involving too many people leads to rushed discussions and often to poor decisions. I recommend that you keep your core team to no more than ten, which is one of the reasons extended participation is so important. If you have allowed a couple of weeks for individual thought gathering and sharing and aligning of team perspectives, then everybody gets to contribute and most importantly to know that their ideas are welcome and important.
It is important that all participants in our strategic planning meeting participate fully and by participate I don’t mean that each team lead presents the findings from their area then moving to the next person. Participation means debate and disagreement. Failure to disagree is a symptom of a dysfunctional team.
One of the key roles of a leader is to ensure that everybody’s voice is heard, creating the time, space and culture where introverts contribute equally to the more extrovert team members. Literally taking turns as you go round the room as you share learnings on a particular aspect of the plan is one way of encouraging this.
At the end of the day it is the responsibility of the leadership team and ultimately the leader to make the best decisions they can but implementation of the decisions made will be smoother when everybody has the context in which the decisions were made.
One of the vital elements of your strategic planning meetings is that you leave having made firm decisions on what your strategic priorities are, who will be held ultimately accountable for delivering the project with a commitment to the time frame for completing the work. Everybody has clarity of focus.
Once you have decided on your key strategic priorities it is important to create momentum and start executing. Creating a weekly meeting for each priority where you discuss progress, blockages and set tasks for the coming week ensures that progress is monitored and celebrated regularly. Use these meetings to maximise the progress principle,by recognising good work and setting people up to accomplish ‘the one thing’ that will move the project forward.
Tracking your key strategic metrics and KPIs that drive them works in the same way, by reviewing the numbers that people know are the most important drivers of company success ensures they continue to embrace the strategy and focus on the right priorities. Giving people visibility on where their hard work is contributing along the way is a key driver of the momentum you need to maintain and ensure these meetings set the key tasks that people to commit to completing for continued improvement in these areas.
At the end of a productive meeting everybody should leave better off than when they entered. Applying the 5P’s principle of productive meetings to your strategic planning process will give you the best chance of making great decisions and executing on them effectively.