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This is an intro to strategic planning for teams that work virtually, distributed or remote. I make the case for strategic planning even for small, agile teams, and I share a bit about how teams can DIY strategic planning without ever having to meet in a single boardroom. From a webinar delivered with Lucid Meetings, March 10, 2016.
Thank you Tricia! I’m excited to be here today for a talk that combines two of my favourite work topics: strategic planning and remote work.
Before I dive in, I just wanted to share with you how this collaboration came about. A few years ago, I was a management consultant for government executives, which meant facilitating a lot of in-person strategic planning workshops. I loved a lot about the work. Specifically, I loved helping teams get clear on where they were going. But I also felt trapped. I felt very much tethered to the downtown Toronto core and the daily commute. I knew I wanted to work remote, but I didn’t see how that was possible. Finally, I took the plunge, and last year I was living in Australia with my family, setting up what I thought would be an in-person consulting service, when I discovered remote teams. I stumbled on this whole movement of organizations that are saying place doesn’t matter. And as part of my research, I came across Lucid Meetings. We started talking about how they do strategic planning with a distributed team and we realized it was probably a real issue for a lot of remote teams. So I worked with Lucid Meetings to translate what I know about strategic planning into a process that works entirely online.
Now, today, I don’t want to dive into the details of how the process works. All of you can download the guide and the agendas at any time from the Lucid Meetings site. The process is completely mapped out for you. Today’s session is really to give you the case for strategic planning and help you understand what it can do for your team First, I want to talk about why Strategic Planning still matters – even in the age of agile management – and why it matters just as much for small business as it does for big corporations. Second, I’ll talk about some myths and misconceptions about strategic planning. There are quite a few. Third, I’ll highlight the benefits you’ll experience right away when you embrace strategic planning. Finally, I’ll share what I know about taking the process online. My plan is to wrap up the talk at about 20 minutes and then turn the floor over to you for questions.
But before I go on, it’s really important for me to know that you’re getting what you want out of this session. I can make some tweaks to my talk if I know what you need. So right now, I’d like to give you a minute to type into the Chat box any learning objectives you may have. Tell me what you hoped to take out of this webinar and I will try my best to deliver. (wait until chat slows, take notes on comments, summarize comments and say what I can deliver)
This intro is really for those of you in smaller teams, with few layers and probably a pretty agile approach to getting work done. In this kind of environment, strategic planning doesn’t always happen because people are too busy implementing. And there’s no corporate centre demanding a 3-5 year strategic plan. So, you have to ask, is strategic planning really for us? For those of you who already do strategic planning, this can just be a little refresher to remind you of why it matters and the ROI.
Strategic planning makes time for thinking about the future. Sometimes we have a fuzzy idea of where we want to end up, but until we’re forced to articulate that direction and map out how we’ll arrive, it is really just a fantasy. I read a good quote, and it was something to the effect: ‘Do small things with big things in mind, so that the small things fall into place’. And that’s really insightful. If you start with the end in mind, you can line up the steps to get there. Strategic planning also encourages proactivity about change. It’s a topic we sometimes like to shuffle aside, right, but change is inevitability, so we need to plan for it. By alignment, I mean strategic planning gets everyone on the same page – it empowers people to make better decisions day-to-day, because they know the ‘end’ they must achieve. This one may sound familiar to you: strategic planning mitigates crisis management – instead of being so reactive, you can be proactive, because you’ve anticipated certain types of chaos, and even when unanticipated chaos occurs, you can deal with it rationally by always returning to your strategic plan. Finally, strategic planning helps you to use your resources in a planned and focused manner. So, how does that sound to people? Can I ask you to do one thing? Can you type into the comments which of these reasons why resonates most with you? Just go ahead and type the number. So, if you really need team alignment most, go ahead and type in a 4. If you feel like you want that long-view, type in a 1.
Next, just so that we’re all on the same page, I’ll go through what strategic planning is and what it’s not. My aim here is to illustrate just how much easier it is than you may think.
It’s not about sorting through a list of pet projects or to-do items. The strategic plan will help you to better plan for those projects, but it’s really at a higher level.
So, it asks What are the handful of things we must focus on in the next 12 months, or two years, or sometimes an even longer time horizon. Why do these focus areas matter? Who are our most important stakeholders? How long can we give ourselves to reach these goals?
As illustrated here, it’s not something you’ll seal in a vault. It’s also not about complicated spreadsheets. And although strategic planning appeals to our rational brains, it isn’t necessarily a process that moves from point A to point B to point C.
There’s back and forth. As you plan, you’ll work from the top-down, but sometimes partway down you realize you need to go back to the highest level and adjust. As you implement, you’ll make discoveries and adjust the plan. And while we like to ground strategic plans in some strategy, there is an element of creativity and even intuition. You bring the data to bear, but sometimes you just know.
There’s also an idea that strategic planning is only for executives, or that the best ideas flow from the top down with decisions made very narrowly.
The best strategic planning involves everyone to some extent – ideas and insight are drawn from every level, and every suggestion is weighed based on merit, not based on position. Really effective leaders realize that the best strategy is one that gets executed, and execution has a lot to do with buy-in. The best way to get buy-in is to have your implementers come up with the solutions themselves.
When I refer to time horizons, I mean how far out should you plan. Should you have a 2 year plan? I’m here to tell you that time horizons are flexible. People can also be daunted by the lingo. Goals versus objectives versus strategies and tactics. Don’t let that drag you down. And again, the formality of strategic planning makes many people think it’s only for companies with complicated org charts.
So, yes, strategic planning should be an exercise in stretching your horizons. You should look forward as far as you can see. For government clients, I used to say about 3 – 5 years. That seemed right for the pace of change there, but there’s no rule. Your strategic plan could look forward just 12 months if you’re in a fast-moving sector or just starting out. Now again, on the terminology. The ideas behind the terms are pretty straightforward and what matters is that everyone agrees on what the words mean in use. So, if you like objectives instead of goals, as long as everyone is on the same page, that’s fine. Every organization can benefit from looking ahead and getting agreement on where to focus, and that’s all that strategic planning really is, so it’s for every kind of culture and every type of organization.
This was a bit of a mental leap for me, too, as I explained, but strategic planning doesn’t have to be a one or two day session in a stuffy boardroom, with a lot of tactile materials. It doesn’t have to mean 8 hour sessions, or big consulting bills.
In fact, the process and the thinking behind the process can be done from anywhere, and those marathon planning sessions can be broken into pieces – I would argue with better results. And even if you’ve never led strategic planning before – even if your team has never done strategic planning – you can do it.
There IS some time investment needed, but with a clear guide, like the one you can download from Lucid Meetings, I think you’ll find running your own remote strategic planning is not too difficult. And it’s worth it. Here are some of the short-term perks of doing strategic planning.
When I talk to leaders of remote teams about the benefits of strategic planning, one thing I hear is that it really frees them up. Instead of getting management involved in a lot of micro-decisions, with a strategic plan in place, employees can make better decisions themselves.
This is so important. Part of defining your brand positioning is thinking through vision, mission and values. That positioning becomes the foundation for how you talk about your brand, so your marketing becomes more consistent; it all hangs together, and so it’s more resonant. When marketing opportunities come up, you also have a filter through which to decide where to invest.
This is another big one for the leaders I talk to, and it’s pretty intuitive to understand. When you have a clear path mapped out, you can cut out a lot of waste. There’s just so much more clarity and focus.
Finally, having a strategic plan means you are upfront and open about who you are, and so you can attract team members and partners who share your values and are on board with your vision and mission.
I’ve probably spent long enough now on the case for strategic planning. So, now, I want to cover the key points on taking it remote. We won’t dive into the details of what tools to use, when, because you can find a lot of that on the Lucid Meetings website.
There are really just a few things that need to change to make strategic planning work online. You need to break down the meetings into shorter sessions. Even in-person, multi-hour workshops are not that productive, but online you really need to keep it short. Aim for about an hour for each topic. The process I documented for Lucid Meetings breaks down strategic planning into sub-topics, each of which you cover in one meeting. To make the meetings more productive, you assign some pre-work. There’s then less need to lecture or educate people on the topic when you do get online for the planning session. And you always assign follow-up work to further refine and advance the plan offline, between sessions. Also, you need to be thoughtful about group size. The ideal group size for a meeting like this is six or fewer participants, so that everyone can be engaged. If you have a larger team, you simply need to think about how you can engage people in sub-groups more often. You create virtual ‘breakout groups’ just like you would in an in-person session with a large team. ANY QUESTIONS?
I like to keep things fairly simple when it comes to tools. You want a very reliable audio or videoconferencing platform, of course, and the nice thing about the Lucid Meetings platform is that you have collaborative space built-in. For every meeting you have a notes page where people can type simultaneously, so it’s like a shared white board or a shared flip chart. It’s also really easy to use the strategic planning agendas I developed inside the Lucid Meetings platform, but if you’re using something else for your meeting, you’ll want to download the agendas from the toolkit and put them up somewhere on whatever collaborative space you’re using. Finally, you might want to check out some online brainstorming tools via the link here. These replicate some of the more tactile brainstorming techniques you’d use in-person, like using sticky notes. ANY QUESTIONS?
The ‘essentials’ covered in this toolkit are really the core of your strategic direction. The vision, mission and values define your organizational identity; your very brand. They become the filter through which you evaluate new opportunities, and make decisions over the long-term. Goals and strategies define where you’ll focus energy and resources over the next x number of years. The Essential Strategic Plan creates a basic, but fully functional strategic plan. From there, you’ll probably want to proceed to more detailed planning. For example, I like to break broad strategies into more discrete tactics. Going into even more detail, you can break the tactics into programs and projects. Sometimes you’ll want to capture these programs and projects in an operational plan. It really depends on your context. ANY QUESTIONS?
So here’s a kind of template you can use to capture your Essential Strategic Plan on one page. It really helps to condense and visually represent your plan on a one-pager, because then you’re more likely to reference it. You can print something like this out and put it up at your desk to keep it front and centre.
Here’s an example of a finished product. I have permission from Organics 4 Orphans to share this plan. You can see how everything is at-a-glance here, and with a bigger sheet of paper you could even add in your KPIs.
In case you aren’t aware, I’ll just quickly point you to resources on the Lucid Meetings site. This is where you’ll find free downloadable agendas and the full toolkit, which is like a facilitator’s guide.
This process walks remote teams through creation of the core elements of a strategic plan: vision, mission, values, goals and strategies, resulting in what we call The Essential Strategic Plan.
This 35-page Facilitator's PDF Guide includes: The Essential Strategic Plan Processes and Roles Adaptations Using the Strategy Map The Strategic Meetings: Vision, Mission, Values, Goal Setting, & Strategies Strategic Planning Resources
Like I said, there is a bit of work involved in DIY strategic planning, but well worth the investment. For some teams, they just want a little more help. I offer support on a few levels, but for most teams, I’d suggest a really basic package. An entry-level consultation. Before any strategic planning, there’s a certain amount of planning. You’re ‘planning to plan’, which means you’re deciding how to adjust the template agendas to fit your team, who should be involved, how, when, and so on. You’re making a plan to roll-out this process of strategic planning. That work can take several hours – more if you’re just learning the process. So what I offer is a roadmap. I customize the agendas for you, help you to create reasonable timelines, work with you on who should play what role, and so on. Once you have a plan in place, you’re ready to run the online workshops. This service is a great option for teams that aren’t sure they need a consultant, but maybe want to dip their toes in the water or just need help getting started. So, if that sounds like you, then get in touch and we can talk about creating a roadmap for you. For others, they want full-service, which includes facilitating the workshops and helping to craft the final plan. And we can talk about that, too.
Now I’d like to turn the floor back to Tricia to facilitate the Q&A process.
Strategic Planning with Remote Teams: It's Easier Than You Think
What We’ll Cover
1. Why Strategic Planning (3 mins)
2. What It Is/ Is Not (7 mins)
3. Immediate Benefits (3 mins)
4. Taking It Remote (7 mins)
5. Q&A (25 mins +)
Why Do It?
1. The long-view is everything
2. Start with the end in mind
3. Anticipate and plan for change
4. Get team alignment
5. Mitigate day-to-day chaos
6. Use resources intentionally
What It’s NOT:
• Not concerned with specific
• Doesn’t deal with questions of
‘By Who’ and ‘How’
What Strat Planning Is:
• Planning at the highest level
• Deals with questions of:
• Why/To What End
• For Who
What It’s NOT:
• Driving towards a final
• A one-shot deal/ written in
• All about crunching the
What Strat Planning Is:
• Intuitive AND analytical
What It’s NOT:
• Exclusive to management
What Strat Planning Is:
• Open to everyone
• About buy-in
What It’s NOT:
• Absolute about time horizons
• Dogmatic about terminology
• Only for big companies with
What Strat Planning Is:
• Adaptable to your definition of
• Agnostic about terminology
• Suited to all kinds of
management styles and
What It’s NOT:
• Confined to boardrooms
• Reliant on flip charts & markers
• A marathon
• Only the terrain of consultants
What Strat Planning Is:
• Do-able for every kind of team
• Vision, Mission and Values help
you craft clear messaging
• Goals, Strategies and KPIs help
you make better decisions
about marketing tactics
• Focused spending
• Smarter time allocation
• Less time lost to indecision
on ad hoc opportunities
• Better hiring
• Better partnerships
• Understand ‘fit’ by
getting super-clear on:
• who you are
• who you’re for
• where you’re going
A Few Tweaks
Instead of day-long sessions:
• A series of short, sharp
• Avg. 1 hour duration
• Focused topics that build
to a total plan
• Offline work to flesh it out
• Video or audioconferencing
• Collaborative space (Lucid
Meetings notes, Google
• Agendas as part of The
Complete Toolkit for
Strategic Planning With
• Optional: other nifty
The Toolkit Covers
• KPIs developed offline
Where to Find The DIY Guide
• Turn-key strategic planning
for your remote team:
• Custom agendas
• Advice on roles
• Coaching on how to run the
strategy sessions for DIY
• A project plan for getting it
• Facilitation support
• Contact Anna O’Byrne,