7 Essential Tasks for a Strategic Planning Facilitator

Sections of this topic

    As the strategy leader, you have seven activities to which I recommend you pay close attention to build a strong strategy that has full buy-in and commitment.

    Gain your team’s commitment and buy-in to the process

    If your leadership team members are like most with whom I have worked, they are stretched for resources and have more on their plate than they can likely accomplish with the time they have. Therefore, for many of them, the prospect of taking valuable time and resources to develop a plan that will come up with more to add to their already over-loaded plates is NOT a welcomed idea.

    So how do you gain their commitment to planning and their buy-in to a planning process such as The Drivers Model? With a management briefing, you will have your team identify the most critical issues facing the organization; then they will make adjustments to the planning process as needed to ensure that the process addresses those issues. The management briefing increases commitment to planning by providing your team with a road map that shows how what is important to them will be covered during the strategic planning sessions.

    Ensure All Voices Are Heard

    The fundamental secret of facilitation indicates that you can increase buy-in and commitment by having those impacted by the plan involved in the creation of it. However, everyone in your organization will be impacted by the strategic plan. Does that mean everyone should be at the table creating the plan?

    No, of course not. Nor is it necessary. Involvement does not necessitate being at the table. There are several ways to provide people the opportunity for involvement in the plan as described in the table that follows.

    • For some, just giving them a chance for input through a survey or a suggestion box will be adequate.
    • For others, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or other methods for gaining in-depth input may be more appropriate.
    • And for others, their responsibilities, influence, expertise, or perspectives are so important that it will make sense to have them seated around the table.

    One of your important roles is to determine who should be at the table and to put in place other avenues to ensure all voices are given the opportunity to be heard. Providing the opportunity for input is essential to a facilitative approach and to gaining the level of buy-in needed for successful implementation across the organization.

    Ensure key information is brought into the room

    You may have been in the room when a team has made a decision based on the best information available, only to discover that if they had been aware of other information that had not been brought into the room, they would have likely made a different decision. Sound familiar? Well, part of your role is to ensure that this doesn’t happen with your planning activity.

    My company’s work in the area of consensus building has shown that one of the primary reasons people disagree is due to a lack of shared information. Many disagreements can be resolved, and even prevented, by making sure all parties have the same information.

    With the Drivers Model, the briefing book serves the purpose of ensuring all your team members start with a common set of information

    Get your ideas on the table without overpowering the group

    As indicated earlier, it is important that all voices be heard, and that includes yours. Unfortunately, if you are like most leaders, your voice comes with considerable baggage. When the boss speaks, people listen. And they listen differently from when other people speak.

    Sure, there will likely be some people in the room who treat your voice like every other voice in the room. Whether the idea comes from you or a first-year manager, these people will state their agreement or disagreement with the idea in the exact same way, regardless of the source. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t the case for most of the people at the table. When you speak, most may be quick to respond when they agree, and very, very slow to respond when they disagree – so slow, in fact, that sometimes they may never get around to it!

    As a result of the lack of challenge, many leaders experience within their own walls, the views of the leader can easily overpower the group. And even when someone dares to challenge with a question, some leaders, often without knowing it, respond with statements that belittle the questioner or not-so-subtly communicate that challenging the boss is not welcome.

    Ensure that the plan components meet the quality checks

    With the Drivers Model, each component is dependent upon the components that came before it. So, for example, if you do a poor job of defining your mission and vision, your goals and objectives will reflect this. Likewise, if your goals and objectives are misaligned, your critical success factors and barriers will also be off. If your critical success factors and barriers are inadequate, your strategies and action plans will be inadequate as well. Therefore it is essential that you do a quality job every step of the way through the planning process.

    The Drivers Model is designed to help you do this. From vision and mission to strategies and action plans, the Drivers Model provides a specific quality check for each component of the strategic plan. These quality checks help ensure that your plan is comprehensive, robust, inspiring, and implementable. As the leader, it is your role to ensure that each component of the plan passes its quality check. Below I have summarized one or two key elements from the quality checklist for each of the components of the plan.

    Management Briefing
    • Have the critical issues that the plan should address been identified?
    • Has a planning process for addressing the issue been accepted?
    Briefing Book Review and SWOT
    • Has the planning team reviewed the briefing book to identify key observations and potential strategies?
    • Does each strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat identify both the attribute and the impact?
    Positioning Statements
    • Have positioning statements been created for the key external trends impacting future success?
    • Have each of the positioning statements been formatted to identify both the belief and the action taken by the belief, such as “we believe…therefore we must…”?
    • Does the mission statement broadly describe what you do, for whom you do it, and the benefit?
    • Does the mission statement indicate the industry or market that the organization serves?
    • Does the vision represent the preferred future of the organization?
    • Does the vision simply represent a logical extension of today or are out-of-the-box results represented?
    • As a group, do the goals represent all of the key areas of strategic focus for the organization?
    • If the organization achieves these goals, and only these goals, will the organization most likely have fulfilled its mission?
    • Are the objectives SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound?
    • If all of the objectives are achieved, and only these objectives, will the goal be accomplished for the time period?
    Guiding Principles
    • Do the guiding principles identify all the key values of the organization?
    • Are the principles worded in such a way as to indicate both the value and the expected behaviors (e.g., “We believe … Therefore we will …”)?
    Critical Success Factors
    • Have the most critical conditions that must be created and the major barriers impacting success been identified?
    • Are the CSFs stated as nouns with conditions (e.g., “effective dealer network”) and not as verbs (e.g., “develop”)?
    • Are the barriers phrased in such a way as to encourage strategies for overcoming them?
    • Do you have at least two and no more than seven barriers per goal?
    • Are the strategies phrased as activities to be accomplished and NOT results to be achieved?
    • If the strategies are implemented is it highly likely that the objectives will be achieved?
    Action Plans
    • Have all the key deliverables been identified? If the deliverables are done, will the strategy be completed?
    • Have all the important actions been identified? Is each action worded so that it is clear what needs to be accomplished? If all the actions are completed, will all the deliverables be created?

    Follow through and hold people accountable

    If you have been involved in strategic planning processes, you know that far too often it is a game in which considerable energy is placed in developing a plan that is then put on the executive’s shelf, only to be looked at when it is time to do strategic planning once again.

    The Drivers Model strives to end this game. Assemble a detailed process for aligning the organization and ensuring monthly check-ins, quarterly reviews, and an annual update to the strategic plan. This structured monitoring process is intended to help ensure that the plan moves from paper to implementation.

    Decide if an outside facilitator would be helpful

    With an activity as critical as strategic planning, it is essential that the effort be facilitated by someone who is skilled in facilitation but also has considerable experience guiding a team through strategy. Some organizations have internal resources with both facilitation and strategy expertise. However, others choose to bring in outside professional facilitators with years of training, experience, and proven results.

    When should you bring in an outside facilitator? It is your role as the leader to make this call.


    Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., “The Facilitation Company” and author of Amazon best-seller “The Secrets of Facilitation”, “The Secrets to Masterful Meetings”, and the brand new “The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy.” Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement, and others. They are also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States.