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Annual Strategic Sessions: Planning, Preparation, and Strategy Execution!

Fall is typically the best time to hold your organization’s annual strategic sessions and start planning and preparing for the next year. But, unfortunately, most leadership teams view the annual strategic sessions and strategic planning season as a waste of time and a boring activity. Instead, it should be viewed as a great opportunity to review the current year in comparison to your goals. It should also be a time to reflect on your vision, mission, your organization’s core values, and your unique value proposition. In this article, I am focusing on three important aspects of your annual strategic sessions: Planning, Preparation and Strategy Execution.

Planning: Leaders Plan

The planning phase is when you start the conversation, gather the leadership team, and ask questions such as:

  • Has anything changed in the past year that significantly impacts our core focus and the mission of this organization?
  • What has gone right? What has gone wrong?
  • Are we executing the strategies we agreed on to meet the strategic objectives for this year? If not, why?

The answers to these questions should be a great start to the conversation. As a best practice, the strategic plan should be a three-year rolling plan. This means you start with a three-year plan and you review it every twelve months to ensure you’re on track. At the end of the three years, you create a new three-year plan and so on.

The leadership team members who participate in the initial strategic planning sessions should come prepared to share about the strategies they were accountable to execute at the beginning of the plan year. Once you get past these initial questions, you can then move on to a deeper discussion regarding the top three to five strategic objectives you’re working on during the current three-year strategic plan.

Preparation: Leaders Prepare

One of Joe Gibbs’ famous quotes is “A winning effort begins with preparation.” Joe Gibbs is a retired American football coach, NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series team owner, and former NHRA team owner. He was the 20th and 26th head coach in the history of the Washington Redskins. (Wikipedia)

He is correct. Without preparation, you will not win whatever race or goal you (or your leadership team) set out to accomplish.

Part of the preparation includes practicing, correcting errors or activities that didn’t go as planned, and testing to ensure your plan works. The right team members must be involved as well to accomplish your goals. The organizations that involve the entire team have the best chance at succeeding because everyone is invested in the process and the organization’s vision becomes their vision.

Strategy Execution: Leaders Execute the Plan

One of the biggest frustrations for senior leaders of organizations is that the strategic plan sits on a shelf and is not a dynamic document. To avoid that frustration and to ensure the strategic plan is in fact implemented, you must have a documented and established process that involves the entire team. The process is crucial to a successful strategy execution. So what is the process?

Start by establishing “strategic plan committees” where employees from the various areas of the organization participate. Each committee takes ownership of one of the top strategic objectives. They are accountable to execute the strategies, tasks, and tactics to accomplish that one strategic objective. Encourage employees to volunteer to lead those committees and establish a reporting process so all the committees/teams report up to executive leadership and even up to the Board of Directors. Committees (or “groups” if you don’t want to call them committees) should meet quarterly to assess progress.

Having a process is crucial but there are other key components that must work together for the process to work:

  1. Outstanding communication: From the top down and from the bottom up, clear and honest ongoing communication using all the mediums available is a must.
  2. Team building approach: Everyone needs to embrace the organization’s vision and feel like they belong and are valued members of the team.
  3. Trust: Without trust, none of these processes or strategies will work. Trust starts at the top and it should be preserved at all costs.

I hope the concepts discussed here will be of help to you in your organization as you start planning and preparing for the new year so you can successfully execute the strategic objectives you set out to accomplish! Remember, leaders plan, prepare, and execute their plans. Enjoy your annual strategic sessions!

Books by Marcia Malzahn