14 Ways an outsider can make strategic planning even more productive

Lots of jobs are outsourced these days. With the downturn in the economy a few years ago many companies discovered they could save money by hiring the assistance they needed when they needed it rather than keep them on the payroll all the time. Some jobs lend themselves to this better than others – commercial copy writers, some accounting help are just two.

In something as important as strategic planning, a set of outside eyes and ears can be a big, big benefit to your company. As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I am NOT IMPLYING that you are not capable of developing a strategic plan yourself. But buy-in is imperative and it’s just a fact of group dynamics that a voice other than yours can usually elicit the ideas and cooperation of others more expediently than you, especially if you’ve set aside a period of time to get it done. The development and implementation of vision and strategic plans must be accomplished without a hint of manipulation. None! You want spontaneous and enthusiastic participation here and nothing less than a psychologically sound system to gather ideas and guide development of the plan will do.

There will be reluctance to overcome, skepticism to defuse, and politics to maneuver through. You will encounter associates who want to dominate, ones who have off-the-wall ideas, and those who simply want to dissolve into the scenery. There will be baggage to handle, egos to stroke, and ambition to temper. Without meaning to, we can often trigger unwanted reaction and I’ve already said that you, the leader, want to be a catalyst for action not a point of reaction. So, hire the skilled outside facilitator to cross the minefield. Let her or him take the point. You and your facilitator want the same thing and that facilitator is not going to embarrass you or supplant your position or usurp your authority. S/he is skilled at bringing out the best in others, focusing on the objective, and getting the job done. After all, s/he wants the same thing as you do – an efficient and effective department or company.

Here’s 14 ways an outside facilitator can help you succeed in this task:

  1. Oversee the process while you and your team find the answers. S/he will not provide the answers but s/he will help you arrive at them.
  2. Stay on target. Tangents and red herrings are oh so compelling but your facilitator can keep the process on track.
  3. Educe ideas. Not suggest them (except to provoke thinking) but to draw them out of the reserves within the team.
  4. Engage group-wide and on-going participation. There are always stragglers. There are always those moving more quickly than others. No one should be left behind. No one should dominate the discussion.
  5. Nurture the foundlings. Emergent ideas can be fair game for predators. This is not a survival of the fittest setting. It is a survival of the best. A facilitator can protect emergent ideas. Shooting down an idea right out of the mouth of someone usually has the effect of stifling discussion and compromising thinking.
  6. Put off-target ideas into storage. Shooting them down usually discourages their originator but time can be wasted discussing things that are off-topic, even if they are only slightly off topic. A facilitator knows how to store them until such a time they are shown to be unnecessary, irrelevant, or unworkable.
  7. Sounding the waters to make sure everyone fathoms the discussion.  This takes skill because you don’t want to sound like a grammar school teacher but you shouldn’t assume too much either. Facilitators continually offer feedback into the team to assure everyone gets it.
  8. Say it once, twice, as many times and as many ways as necessary. Rephrasing the objective, rewording the dilemma, restating the objective keeps the process on target.
  9. Force the team to make choices, to set and maintain priorities. There are many paths to the goal. Which one should you take? There are many tasks to be executed. Which ones come first? The facilitator knows that no plan is worth the paper it’s written on unless and until tasks and priorities are determined and scheduled.
  10. Weave together the three strands of an unbreakable cord – understanding, consensus, and commitment. When s/he does this, it becomes a team effort and decision. When you do this, it might be construed as your idea. I think it was General Eisenhower who said that leadership was the art of letting others have your own way. You know that a hard job is better done by someone who thinks it was their idea.
  11. Avoids the “talk but no walk” condition that infects too many groups. Follow-up is vital. Facilitators never leave this step to others. Talk is cheap and highly attractive. If plans are not executed the group is worse off than before.
  12. Maintains a record of achievement, a list of what’s been accomplished, and celebrates them all. Most facilitators create a visible list of what the group with whom they work is going to achieve and checks off each milestone. They know that nothing succeeds like success.
  13. Protect your interests. While individuals have a stake in the strategic plan and a role in the implementation of it, what’s really on the line is the future and viability of your company or organization. Facilitators never forget that, even if they don’t often say it.
  14. Connect individual interests with corporate ones. They know that everyone works for personal gain. Everyone! Even in non-profit, charitable organizations, those who work there, either compensated or volunteer, do so for personal reasons. Facilitators, well, facilitate that. They possess insight into human motivation and can pull all components together and capitalize on the X-factor, that intangible something that ignites the spark of enthusiasm to bring the vision nearer.

Coming tomorrow!

I need your input. I am developing training courses and want to know what’s important to you. If there is an itch somewhere, I want to know where to scratch. On Friday, I will put up a survey and I’m asking for your input. It won’t take more than two or three minutes and every choice counts. Thanks for your participation.


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