This scenario may not be unfamiliar. The stars have aligned and you have FINALLY gotten everyone on board with the need to build the organization’s strategic plan. You have assembled the right team. You have them all in a room ready to start developing the document that will guide your organization into its exciting future. And then…nothing. You stall before you even get the thing off the ground. What do you do first? How do you get the conversation started? You know you need to start strong and get the group engaged from the beginning. But you’re just not sure how. Trust me. It’s not an unusual problem to have. Think of it as a form of writer’s block. Once you get that first sentence down, that first idea out, things will start flowing. I’ve been down this path before, so let me suggest a few ideas that have helped me get things rolling with teams and clients I’ve worked with.
Revisit the Mission Statement
A really good way to get your strategic planning process off the ground is to return to the organization’s roots. Like most people, it’s probably been a long time (please don’t say forever!) since you guys looked at the organization’s mission statement. There’s a lot you can gain by taking it out and dusting it off. Remember why this organization is there in the first place. What is your intended purpose?
Bring a copy of the organization’s mission statement. Read it aloud. Ask each person involved to write a paragraph describing what that mission statement means to them. Have each person share their thoughts.
It can also help you to do some advance research here. Collect and historical facts or stories to share with your team to really add flavor and perspective. Was your organization started to address a specific societal need? Was it created to address a problem the founders themselves were having?
This background can launch your team into a discussion about whether this problem or situation still exists. And if it still exists, has it changed? And how? Clearly define the problem your organization is seeking to solve.
One thing you may realize at this point is that the mission statement might feel outdated. It may not really reflect where you are and where you’re going as an organization. Although the mission statement should be almost timeless, the world does change. Markets change. Consumer needs and wants change. And, of course, your organization needs to evolve also. It’s also possible that the mission is as true as it ever was; but that the mission statement’s language simply needs to be modernized.
The Fast-Forward Question
I have also found a “fast-forward” question to be helpful. I have challenged teams with this scenario: “Think about when someone first hires us, buys from us, or is served by us. And then fast-forward about five years. How do we know we’ve helped that person or organization? What tells us we’ve made progress and successfully solved an important challenge they faced?“ Go around the room and ask each person to describe how your organization helped someone. Capture each one on a whiteboard or a flipchart. After awhile key ideas and themes will begin to emerge. I’ve asked this many times before and it really gets your team to zero-in on how your organization impacts the people and companies it interacts with. How do you best serve clients or customers? How do you make real, measurable change? The idea is to root out what problems you solve and how – and support it with evidence.
Something to keep in mind. It’s great to infuse this with data (“We helped several companies increase their sales by 25%.”). But the results you discuss can sometimes be anecdotal (“Parents often tell us how their son or daughter displays a much higher level of confidence after participating in our programs.”). They key isn’t simply to prove your value empirically (although that is good); it’s to more clearly define the fundamental strategic impact your organization makes in the world. That’s what this part of the conversation is about. Remember, we’re just trying to get this process off and running.
The Billboard Question
Here’s another scenario for your team consider that can jump-start your strategic planning process. Have them envision this: Someone is in their car driving down the freeway with a friend, They see a billboard with nothing except the name (or logo) of your organization. The friend has never heard of your organization. But the driver has worked with your organization before and knows it quite well. How would you want them to describe your organization to their friend? Have each person in the room throw out characteristics, descriptive words. When everyone’s list is exhausted, look at the list and begin to combine the words that seem related. For instance, if you have the words “friendly”, “helpful”, “caring”, “problem-solvers”, etc., it tells you that a key part of what makes your organization unique and memorable might lie in how employees interact with customers.
ONE benefit to each of these methods is to get your participants to start talking. Get them used to start sharing their ideas openly – even when they are notfully thought through (a little challenging for the introverts amongst us).
These won’t get you all the way to a strategic plan, but they can certainly help get the process off the ground. These exercises can help get everyone brainstorming, sharing, and thinking strategically. It’s really important to get the team thinking big-picture and long-term. A strategic plan requires that the team rise above the day-to-day issues and concerns that we all get mired in. It’s important from the very start to get everyone engaged and thinking. The hardest part of the process can often be just getting started.
Please feel free to reach out and get in touch and let’s explore how I can help you and your business succeed. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas. You can contact me on our Contact Us page, call me at (713) 907-8429, or email me at BCohen@IDiscoverConsulting.com. I hope you are enjoying these blog posts. If so, please help spread the word. Tell others about IDiscover Consulting Group and my blog. Share these posts. Comment on them. I’d really love to hear your ideas!