Recently, I’ve noticed that many of our clients are involving more and more people in the planning process. As they head into Annual Planning, in addition to the 8-10 people on the senior executive leadership team, many of our clients are eliciting ideas and contributions from the next level of leaders as well. Involving these leaders can help ensure the voice of the customer and those employees closest to the customer are heard. However, having so many people in the room can be a challenge for the facilitator.
Before you choose the right initiatives to focus on in the coming year, you need to be sure you’ve heard all the ideas, all the concerns, all the arguments in favor of and against each option. The discussion should be robust… and if you don’t have a few tense moments in your session, you might think about why that is. Do you have enough view points in the room? Do people feel safe sharing concerns? Healthy, well-developed teams usually have a bit of constructive conflict to work through when making big, strategic decisions.
But, once the decisions are made, the team must present a united front when sharing the plan with the rest of the company. Our expert Strategic Planning Facilitators have some proven tools to help navigate the decision-making process and ensure that the team leaves the room in the best position to execute the initiatives successfully.
- Pre-work. Especially when there’s a large group, asking some questions in advance of the session is a great way to prepare the team and draw out ideas. Our consultants use a simple Start-Stop-Keep exercise, or ask a more specific question for everyone to answer (What is your top idea to grow revenue in 2020? or What is the most critical discussion we need to have in our session?)
In addition to helping the facilitator see where the team needs to spend time in the session, this helps everyone come prepared to discuss. People have different preferences when it comes to sharing ideas - some like to talk on the fly about their ideas, others like to think them out and write them down before sharing. Asking the right questions in advance is a great way to ensure you don’t miss ideas from some of the more introverted team members during the session.
- Ground rules. In the beginning of the session, clarify expectations for how the group intends to participate. We like to have the team create a Full Value Contract that spells out specific behaviors the group agrees to hold themselves accountable for, ensuring they will get full value out of their time together. This can include things like “Silence = Agreement” or “No ideas are bad ideas” or “Equal participation from all.” The rules will be different for each group.
If you know that your team typically struggles with decision making, you may also set some upfront expectations about how decisions will be made. For example, you may introduce the 4 levels of decision making and share that in this session, you are using consultative decision-making, meaning you’ll gather all the insights from the team and the CEO will make the final decision. Or, maybe you are seeking consensus (or agreement from the team) for some decisions. Being clear on this up-front can help move discussions along and avoid getting stuck
- Define support. Another way to ensure the team leaves with the highest likelihood of successful execution is by discussing the importance of each leader fully supporting the plan after the session, even if their idea didn't make the final cut. Too often we find that a plan is undermined when people continue to debate decisions after the planning session ends or avoid personal ownership for team decisions. We share that supporting the plan means demonstrating these three specific behaviors:
- I will speak positively about decisions
- I will not say "they decided"
- I will do all I can to make decisions successful
Once you’ve set the right expectations with the team, it is much easier to discuss, debate, and agree on the best plan for growing your business. Regardless of the size of your team, facilitation can be more of an art than an exact science, and having a few helpful tools like these in your back pocket will increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Want support from one of our experts to facilitate your next Annual or Quarterly Planning session? We’re here to help.
Looking for more Annual Planning Meeting information to help get you started? Check out our additional resources:
Rhythm Systems Annual Planning Resource Center
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