[Q&A] How Do You Get CEO Buy-in for a Strategic Planning Process?

Sep 08, 2023

Q: How do you get CEO buy-in for a strategic planning process?

A: CEO buy-in comes down to communication and collaboration. If you’re leading a process in collaboration with a CEO, ensure you provide the CEO with plenty of opportunities to communicate and provide one-on-one feedback throughout the process.

Ensure your conversations are strategic and purposeful and that they clearly demonstrate the value of the strategic planning process.

Great question! Here are a few of the best answers from our Strategy Collaborative Q&A Session!

When developing and implementing a strategic plan, we always emphasize the importance of stakeholder buy-in; buy-in from everyone from individual contributors to executives. But, most importantly, buy-in needs to happen from your CEO, which comes with its own challenges.

Let’s get into some effective ways that strategy leaders can ensure enthusiastic buy-in from CEOs on your strategic plan.

Understanding the CEO’s Goals and Perspective

Unearthing the real issues

Before initiating any strategic plan, it’s important to get on the same wavelength as the CEO. Understand what they need to solve for; what do they need to fix, accomplish or avoid?

You may have plans or topics in mind, but if they don’t align with those of the CEO, then your ability to collaborate may very well become impossible.

Our role as strategy leaders is to facilitate alignment by having purposeful conversations that get to the heart of issues fast. Sometimes, the decisions for this process can be made democratically among the entire executive team, and sometimes, the CEO is the final decision-maker. As such, their perspective is critical.

3 Important Questions to Ask Your CEO

Gaining clarity and an understanding of what the CEO values or the issues he or she considers important is the first step in the process. Begin by asking these three questions:

  • What are we solving for?
  • Why are we here?
  • Why do you feel it’s important for this team to spend valuable time solving this issue?

Understand the roadblocks

It’s also essential to understand the potential roadblocks and obstacles that can get in the way of achieving the organization’s vision. There are few people who would understand those issues more than the CEO. Engage them in this conversation so that they can contribute to the solutions.

Tailoring Conversations to the CEO’s Thinking Style

Every CEO has a unique thinking style. Tailoring the process to match this style can often be a golden ticket to getting buy-in. The trick here is to be observant and adaptable, tuning into the CEO’s wavelength to foster a more fruitful dialogue.

Finding a way to articulate the vision in a way that the CEO can understand goes a long way to motivating them and getting them excited to drive the process themself.

Crafting Strategic Conversations

Pro Tip:

1:1s is an important part of the strategic planning process, especially early on. Make time for 1:1s with the executive team and the CEO.

Engaging in one-on-ones

Open, one-on-one dialogues can be more effective than formal meetings. While engaging the entire leadership team in a one-on-one capacity is important, it may prove to be essential for the CEO, particularly if they are skeptical of the strategic planning process.

During these sessions, you can genuinely ask them about their motivations, objections, and ultimately, about their perspective on, “What are we solving for?” These conversations often reveal the core issues and expectations the CEO has, paving the way for a more aligned strategy.

Encouraging collaborative brainstorming

Allow room for collaborative brainstorming sessions where different members, including the CEO, can contribute their ideas and solutions. This collaborative approach can foster a sense of ownership and eagerness to actively participate in the strategic planning process.

Pro Tip:

Ask the team and the CEO participating in the process to take a personality profile, i.e. Emergenetics or a ‘communication style’ quiz to really gain insight on how the individual best communicates.

Demonstrating the Value of Strategic Planning

Creating proof points through pilots

Our job as strategy leaders is to accelerate results. Unfortunately, if resources are being thrown at accelerating results, and those results aren’t being delivered, it is hard to create a business case for the process.

So, to show the effectiveness of the strategic planning process, start by piloting a specific initiative. Demonstrating successful results from these trials can be a persuasive method to convince the CEO of the process’s value.

Aligning strategy and quality

Quality and strategy go hand-in-hand. Showcase how strategic planning can enhance the quality of outcomes and streamline processes, fostering a better, more cohesive workflow across different departments.

Pro Tip:

Following the rules of project management, ensure that your strategy is cohesive and pulls together all departments.

Make sure the process is actually driving future conversations.

Sometimes leaders may ask why the process is worth it if it’s not driving performance. This is a valid point that can be addressed by making sure that the process is driving future conversations, rather than just providing a status update.

Ultimately, getting the CEO’s enthusiastic buy-in for the process is the single-best way to ensure the strategic plan’s success. If the CEO is not in a championship position of the process, then the rest of the strategy team should not move forward with the plan.

Additional Resources to Consider



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