New to Strategic Planning? Here's How to Make the Most of Your Session
July 27, 2021
New to Strategic Planning? Here's How to Make the Most of Your Session

For many first-time leaders, the idea of your first Strategic Planning session can be overwhelming. From feelings of imposter syndrome to the simple weight of discussing a 10-year vision for the company and how it translates to goals for the year, it can be intimidating. 

But whether you are heading to your first Strategic Planning session or you’ve lost count of the number of sessions you’ve been part of in your career, we wanted to share three tips on how to get the most out of your team’s session. 

Tune Out the Noise 

For many executives, the idea of spending a whole day or even two disconnected from the day-to-day of the business comes ladened with anxiety. None of us have a shortage of work to be done. So it’s really easy to go into your Strategic Planning session with a fear-based mindset of all the things that could go wrong or won’t get done while you’re out. 

Don’t fall into the trap. 

As humans, far too often we are so fearful of the short-term pain, that we lose sight of the long-term benefit of taking a step back from the constant grind of life. 

Your Strategic Planning session is an opportunity to take a step back from the day-to-day of the business, and reevaluate your direction. Your company’s direction. Your team’s direction. 

The only way to do this is by turning down all of the noise that comes from your team members, customers, or other areas clamoring for attention. 

One thing that folks often lose sight of is that Strategic Planning isn’t only about generating the tactical steps for execution. It also entails building and setting the strategies based on strategic thinking for the direction of the business. The only way to put yourself in a mindset of thinking long-term is to give yourself permission to do so. 

By continuously checking Slack, email, or responding to non-urgent needs from employees, you are immediately placing yourself in the day-to-day mindset rather than thinking about the long-term direction. 

Remember, you’re in the position at the leadership level because of your ability to impact the overall course of the business and shape the trajectory of the company. You no longer have the luxury of simply thinking of your work as tactical execution. 

Embrace Debate, But Alignment is a Non-Negotiable 

As you head into your Strategic Planning session, you might be expecting a knock-down, drag-out debate over the goals and objectives your company has for the coming year. Whether it is sales and marketing negotiating budgets to meet revenue targets, product and engineering scoping out new products and features, or different team members arguing over areas of potential investment, there are countless stories, good and bad, of the debates that take place in these sessions. 

For each company, the level of debate and intensity will likely be determined by the personalities on your team and the culture of your company. However, don’t be afraid of the debate. 

The debate is what strengthens your team’s overall Strategic Planning process, and helps add validation to the priorities you select for the coming year or quarter. Every member of the team should feel confident that the objectives being set were discussed, the pros and cons weighed, and ultimately the most important priorities selected. 

However, the discussion and debate should never end with members of the team feeling isolated or fractured from the team. Maybe the most important part of the debate itself is that collectively your team comes together at the end of the discussion, unified and ready to rally around the overall direction of the company. 

At the end of the day, if there is friction or animosity that still exists, it will almost certainly carry over from the Strategic Planning session and have a drawn out effect on the company’s alignment and ability to reach the milestones you agreed upon. 

So while debate is to be expected, even embraced, the overall alignment of the team can never be in question.  

Leave with Clearly Defined Ownership and Responsibility

With most Strategic Planning sessions, it should be expected that it will likely be a long, exhausting day(s). By the end of these sessions, most leaders are drained from conversation, debate, and ideation to the point where they’re ready to wrap things up and move on to the team dinner or simply head home to recharge. 

For as exhausting as these sessions might feel towards the end of the day, we can’t highlight enough how important it is not to leave things open ended or without clear, defined ownership and responsibility assigned to team members. 

At the end of the Strategic Planning session, although you might feel physically and mentally drained, you should also feel invigorated and empowered for what lies ahead. 

From your Strategic Planning session you’ve likely agreed upon high-level Company Themes and outlined your Objectives, so now comes the important step of taking that high-level direction and integrating it into the management level for feedback, questions, and collective buy-in. This critical step only comes if leadership members feel they have clear direction on how they can help the company succeed. 

If team members feel as though they are leaving the Strategic Planning session with ambiguity or a lack of clarity, you can rest assured that the same ambiguity will leak into other areas of the business. 

For most employees, clear communication, alignment, and accountability comes from the example set by leadership. 

As you leave your Strategic Planning session, make sure you have clear agreement on what was discussed, agreed upon, and expected from all leadership team members moving forward. This clarity and agreement will pay dividends as you begin meeting with managers and employees. 

Strategic Planning: People, Process, and Tools 

So whether you are heading into your first Strategic Planning session or you are a seasoned leader, remember that Strategic Planning can help outline your commitment to bring every employee along on your journey of building something special. If you go in with the mindset that this process is something designed to help unlock new opportunities for growth and propel your company forward, then the time you spend in these sessions will be well spent. 

At Elate, we believe that successful Strategic Planning comes down to the people, process and tools put in place. We hope this was a great intro or reminder for how to approach Strategic Planning with the right process and mindset, but the right solution can also help make the most of your time together as a leadership team. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how Elate is the leading solution for strategy and operations leaders in how they plan, run, and set a clear path forward in their Strategic Planning process, we’d love to connect. Feel free to reach out to our team today to schedule a demo!