A strategic planning retreat can be a very effective way to set or reset the general direction of your organization, but only if it’s run correctly. Learn how to conduct a retreat that produces results from Erica Olsen, Co-Founder of OnStrategy.
For more resources on building your strategic plan, view the Essentials Guide to Strategic Planning.
“Hi, my name is Erica Olsen. Today’s whiteboard session is how to hold an effective strategic planning retreat or a strategy offsite. So what is the purpose of a strategic planning retreat? The number one thing we want to get out of any retreat is setting the strategic or corporate direction as well as identifying priorities for the next year about how we go from where we are today to where we’re trying to go and specifically next year, what are the priorities we need to have in place in order to keep moving forward?
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Normally, it’s done on an annual basis, that may or may not be something you want to adopt in your organization, but most retreats are done annually over a several day period; some organizations break them up, but for the most part, done annually. A couple of considerations to take into note as you’re thinking about when to hold your retreat annually, ideally it’s done in advance of your budget process. So we don’t always have the luxury to do that, but ideally the strategic planning priority should actually inform the budget process. It should also align your performance review or performance evaluation so you’re establishing individual goals based on corporate goals, and one big thing is no big changes are going to be occurring in the short term right after the retreat. This happens oftentimes, maybe there’s a big consolidation, a move, a big announcement about someone moving jobs; don’t hold your retreat if that’s in the foreseeable future, just wait, otherwise you’ll torpedo the whole thing.
Ok, so whether you’re doing it yourself or you’re hiring a facilitator, a couple more considerations to take into note in addition to when but who and what’s on the agenda. So, who should be involved? Well, most of the time, of course, the executives are always involved in the off sites. Perhaps you’re holding an offsite with your department and that information’s rolling up, that’s great. You know, we can’t have everybody at the table, so if you’re not holding department off sites, make sure to do employee surveys so you get their ideas into the strategic planning session, so as I say they’re at the table, at least with their ideas there if not in person. And make sure that you have a different set of thinking styles. So sometimes we’ll recommend the clients to bring in some external experts, maybe some different people in the organization who might not be executives but have different types of thinking, different perspectives so you’re making sure that you’re getting a well-rounded perspective of the organization and the competitive environment.
Really quickly looking at the agenda, this is very basic, it’s a great way to break down off site agenda because a lot of people can relate with kind of the thinking around the structure, which is “where are we now?” So looking at our strategic position, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, “where are we going, what’s that vision in the future?” So looking at re-calibrating where we’re trying to go as an organization, and how are we going to get there? So those are really your goals and actions, maybe you’re setting longer-term goals, but at a minimum, next year’s goals for priority setting for everybody in the organization. The most important thing though that you need to do is to think about what you’re going to do after the retreat before the retreat happens because we always have a problem of going from having a great couple day session to actually getting into implementation, so whatever you do, don’t forget to make sure you have a plan in place for what do we do after the retreat. Good luck.”