How to Prepare for Strategy Planning Workshops
May 31, 2023

How to Prepare for Strategy Planning Workshops

Gaussian Team

Creating an organizational strategy that is collaborative, aligned, and reasonable is no easy feat. This process calls for diverse perspectives and insights, and the best way to get that is through a strategy planning workshop.

But what happens during that workshop to create a successful strategy? To provide guidance, we discuss the three key roles and what they should focus on during a workshop: CEOs, Facilitators, and Participants.

How the CEO or Sponsor Should Prepare

During a strategy planning workshop, the role of a CEO (or other corporate sponsor of the strategy) is paramount. Their responsibility revolves around setting the foundation for the strategy, starting with the time horizon. 

1. Decide the time horizon for the strategy

This is the period over which the strategic objectives are set to be achieved. They typically span from three to five years. It's crucial for the CEO to establish this timeframe, as it sets the playing field for determining the strategy. Without it, there is no sense of scale or timing, which are crucial.

2. Decide the objective of the strategy (over the time horizon)

An objective (or an "outcome") is the anchor of the strategy, and without it, it's impossible to determine measure how impactful any proposed strategic initiatives are.

An objective may be:

  • $100 million valuation
  • $50 Million dollars in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization)
  • 50,000 homeless individuals sheltered

The more precise the objective, the easier it will be to prioritize your strategic initiatives and measure progress of the strategy.

Aim for as few objectives as possible, ideally just one. Usually, many objectives are indirect results of more core objectives, so seek out the simple, core objective that encapsulates all others.

3. Secure board/shareholder agreement on the objective(s)

The board or shareholder’s buy-in is critical as they provide governance, financial support, and drive alignment across the organization. This collective agreement facilitates a unified approach towards the objective. Moreover, a board can lose faith in a strategy if they weren't onboard with its fundamental purpose at the very beginning.

4. Identify key stakeholders & describe the upcoming work

The CEO also needs to bring key stakeholders into the fold, both for transparency and to help them think ahead for future input they'll need to provide for the process. Engaging stakeholders in the early stage of the strategy workshop promotes alignment, fosters commitment, and enriches the strategy with diverse insights.

Stakeholders need clarity about the process, the strategic objectives, and the value of their input. A simple process slide (showing when and how they'll plug into the strategy planning efforts) will accomplish this.

Several critical sources determine the objectives (aka "outcomes")

5. Choose workshop participants and facilitator

Some portion (not all) of the key stakeholders should be participants in the workshop. These individuals could range from key decision-makers to those who will be instrumental in leading the execution and in measuring the strategy. The CEO should identify them all and gain agreement on participating in the workshop.

As the orchestrator of the strategy planning workshop, the facilitator plays another key role in ensuring the workshop’s success. A facilitator can be an internal leader, to best capitalize on inside knowledge and stakeholder understanding, or an external partner, to introduce industry-wide perspectives, market research, customer insights, and growth strategy recommendations.

How the Facilitator Should Prepare

1. Discuss the agenda with the CEO

The facilitator’s first task lies in establishing a collaborative dialogue with the CEO to discuss the agenda. This conversation allows the facilitator to gain clarity on the CEO's strategic vision. With this information, the facilitator can structure the meeting in a way that best supports its objective.

2. Help the participants to prepare

Each invitee should be briefed on what they need to prepare before the meeting. This could include reviewing relevant data, recent challenges and opportunities, or an initial brainstorm on potential initiatives. Preparing participants in advance ensures that they come ready to contribute to the discussions.

By letting participants know what they will be expected to answer, they can better prepare their thoughts and ideas. This fosters more fruitful discussions and less on-the-spot pressure.

3. Create facilitation materials (presentations, worksheets, graphics, etc)

Strategy planning workshops are cerebral and exhausting and require engaging, impactful materials to shepherd the participants through a challenging conversation.

Visuals are one of the best approaches to communicating complex data and strategic thought processes. Having at least one visual available helps to maintain focus, engagement, and momentum.

Spreadsheets and other exercise materials are also required to get group input in easily-processable ways. Preparing these ahead of time is crucial to keeping workshops efficient.

Want to learn the 6 steps to effective strategy planning? Watch these informational videos created by the leaders at Gaussian Holdings.

How the Participants Should Prepare

While the CEO and facilitator are necessary roles, so too are the participants. In a strategy planning workshop, they bring unique insights, perspectives, and experiences to the table. Their preparation is essential to the success of this meeting.

1. Review KPIs for their department or business unit

Before the workshop, participants should review their department or business unit's Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). By understanding the metrics that drive their success, they can have a sense of the needed scale of impact of strategic initiatives, and contribute informed perspectives to the discussion.

Example: Bring in specific data around sales by customer, profit by customer, and/or sales by product or service line.

2. Review organizational statements: Purpose, Vision, Mission, Values

Participants should also revisit the organization's core statements - eg Purpose, Vision, Mission, and Values, to the extent that they exist. These foundational principles should guide strategic planning and decision-making, ensuring alignment with the company's overall ethos.

Example: Apple’s organization statement is, “To bring the best user experience to customers through innovative hardware, software and services.” Any strategy workshop they held would ensure that this statement aligns with any new initiatives.

3. Be informed of industry news and reports 

Staying updated with recent and meaningful industry news, reports, and trends relevant to their department or business unit is another essential preparatory step, and ideally one that is continuous and ongoing year-round. Knowledge of the wider market environment enriches the strategic discussion with crucial context.

Example: Participants can find trends in trade publications, market reports, or benchmarking studies.

4. Bring relevant data & reports to the meeting itself

Participants should also bring relevant data to the workshop, making it easy to reference. This could include performance statistics, customer feedback, or competitive analysis.

5. Put together a list of the successes and key pains/challenges 

This list that focuses on their department or business unit will help frame their contribution to the workshop. This should encompass both their perspective as a leader and insights gathered from team dialogues, providing a holistic view of their team.

Example: What key initiatives were major successes in the past three to five years?

6. Use a framework to structure their strategic thoughts (eg SWOT)

Participants can use strategic analysis tools, such as Start/Stop/Continue or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Openings, Threats) to structure their thoughts ahead of time.

Example: Compile a list of industry openings and risks facing your organization over the next few years.

7. Ask tough questions about the current/previous strategy

Participants should question and evaluate the current strategy. Reviewing any previous strategy decks or deliverables can provide valuable context. This allows participants to understand the trajectory of the organization's strategy and how future planning can build on previous learnings.

By reflecting on ongoing initiatives, potential long-term projects, and how these could advance their business unit, participants can ensure the future strategy remains relevant and forward-thinking.

Example: What was our last organizational strategic plan? Was it successful? What needs to change? What initiatives are you currently running for your business unit?

8. Speak with their own teams to gather their input

Team dialogues are vital for ensuring that your department or business unit is fully represented in this strategy workshop.

Example: Ask a few key personnel their experience with and thoughts on the current organizational strategy and document their responses – anonymously.

9. Finally, come energized!

Leaders need to be ready to use their brains and experience to the maximal level. Make sure to bring snacks, plus coffee, tea, or water.

You’re Now Ready to Hold a Strategy Planning Workshop

A good strategy planning session hinges on the diligent preparation of each role: The CEO, facilitator, and participants. By setting clear objectives, encouraging open communication, preparing relevant materials, and staying informed, your organization can transform strategy workshops into an actionable plan. 

Want to get more insight and guidance on how to drive your organizations to success in a workshop? Learn why companies hire strategy consultants like the strategy consultancy at Gaussian Holdings.

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Photo by Jeffrey F Lin.


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