Strategic Planning in a COVID World


Exchanging ideas is invigorating and fun.

I had a client reach out to me last Friday about a strategic planning project – it was so much fun to strategize together about the work that needed to be done. For both of us, it was the last meeting on a Friday afternoon. It was the end of a long week and I think we both left feeling surprised, refreshed, invigorated and hopeful.

That’s what conversations of possibility do.

So many strategic conversations have been delayed due to world events – COVID-19 and the racial revolution have reorganized our thinking and our actions in important ways.

Organizations have delayed strategic planning events because there was a lack of certainty about format – virtual or in-person?

And yet, key conversations are happening while we adapt and adjust – it’s time for our strategic plans to catch up to where we are and where we hope to be in the future.

For example, some of the priorities that are likely to be emerging in our current world are “Adaptability” and “Diversity.” Your strategic planning process may introduce or reintroduce these priorities and help flesh out specific areas for attention as well as actions that need to be taken to keep pace with the world, stay current and remain relevant. Other priorities like fundraising, public relations/marketing and others are likely to need reimagining at this point - your organization may have already adapted in these or other areas. If so, it may be time to capture strategic actions in process and confirm longer term strategic direction.

Strategic planning cannot be delayed any longer. Strategic conversations are happening and it’s time to document the collective vision that is emerging.

Here are seven tips to help as you plan for your virtual strategic planning event.

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Seven Leadership Tips for Strategic Planning in a Virtual Setting

(1) Hire a Facilitator

Strategic planning is an event that requires your presence as a listener, observer, synthesizer, strategizer, etc. A trained facilitator will structure a strategic planning agenda to meet desired outcomes; they will keep conversations on point and balance outcomes with emerging conversations.

(2) Hire a Facilitator Experienced in Leading Virtual Meetings

The proposed agenda for virtual strategic planning meetings should look different; your facilitator ought to be able to speak to the advantages/disadvantages of meeting this way and help set expectations ahead of time – this is key to meeting success. For example, in a nonprofit organization where volunteer board members are among the key participants in setting strategy, there are a different set of expectations that are required for virtual attendance and clear communication of agendas and outcomes is essential.

(3) Collect/Assimilate Data Prior to Meeting

This tip is probably how your organization approached strategic planning before COVID. Gathering and assimilating data prior to meeting is a major time saver. Work with a facilitator who is capable of customizing pre-work questions to your specific and unique needs.

(4) Break the Agenda into Doable Segments

Every meeting begins with one key question: what is it that you need to accomplish? In other words, what do we need to have in hand at the end of the meeting(s)? When you know what needs to be accomplished, it’s fairly easy to work backwards and segment out pieces that need discussion.

(5) Build in Small Group Discussions

All of your virtual meeting segments don't need to involve the full group - get creative and build in small group discussions. Ensure that your small groups have specific outcomes that they are working toward. Whether your meeting is happening virtually or in-person, this is a facilitator's best practice. Utilize smaller group discussions to gain consensus, distill discussions and make recommendations for moving forward. Work with your facilitator/leader to drive outcomes forward with small groups and invite discussion from the larger group at critical junctures.

(6) Protect Brainstorming

Brainstorming in a virtual setting can be tricky if your participants are not experienced with technology and collaboration documents. Your facilitator will help ensure that the collective genius of your participants is able to emerge. We want maximum input with maximum efficiency. It can be built into the process.

(7) Be Proactive - Plan Ahead

I hope I don’t sound grouchy when I say, please hire your facilitator in advance. I can’t tell you how many times I have received a request to facilitate a meeting next week. It takes 2-3 months to effectively customize and plan a meeting for maximum impact (that includes survey design, distribution, analysis and proper advance communication to your participants) – it can be done faster, but proactive action can support positive outcomes. Your experienced facilitator is booking in advance – so plan ahead.

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At the end of the day, will your virtual strategic planning meeting(s) be different? Yes.

Will they be perfect? Probably not.

But your facilitator should be able to help negotiate expectations beforehand and help build processes/products to support the building, revision and/or reimagining or your strategic plan.

One more important point for our leaders out there - while leaders everywhere are monitoring and looking out for the mental and physical well-being of the people around them, it’s important to remember - you are not alone. (Thanks again to last Friday’s client conversation to remind me of these words – the words she longed to hear.)

Even though many of us are feeling isolated - we don’t need to make decisions in isolation.

Strategic planning should not wait any longer. Think two steps ahead and remember above all else – you are not alone.

I support your success….

Kathy

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact Kathy@RefreshmentZone.com for more information on strategic planning, executive coaching, personal coaching or motivational programs.

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