We are going to have a strategic planning day for our business. Who should be involved?
The question is: "Which of my employees should I invite to our strategic planning day?" Here are my thoughts:
1. Only the owners
Sometimes the owners want to have a strategic planning day without any employees present. Often this is because they want to lay themselves bare in the session about their personal objectives and concerns and they feel that can't be completely honest if they are speaking in front of employees. This is completely understandable.
I recently spent time with two owners of a business – one wanted to embark on an ambitious growth path and the other wanted to keep the business small. It was important that the owners had a very robust discussion about their different desires without having to temper their conversation because employees were present.
In practice, a session with just the owners (or even singular owner) works well as an initial discussion about the personal goals of the owner and the broad direction of the business. But once that's done, a proper strategic planning session works better with key employees present.
2. The owners and the senior team
It's the senior team who bring the strategy to life, so if you want it to be executed they simply have to be involved. None of us enjoy being just doers – and especially not your senior team – so get them to contribute to the strategy and they will be more inclined to own it.
More important than this though is that your senior team are the eyes, ears and ideas of the business. Anything you do without input from them will lack the insights they have gleaned from employees, customers, suppliers and competitors.
If your strategy process improves by involving the senior team, why not involve everyone? It's an interesting thought, though in practice the fact that very junior employees often lack sufficient understanding of the business, the environment it operates in, and the strategic process, means a strategic planning session veers right off track in order to educate them.
But I do think that the whole team should be involved in the strategic planning process. The best way to do this is to open it up to the entire company when you have already built the guts of the strategy. The purpose of the whole-of company session is really to get their ideas on specific issues and through such a contribution get them excited about the future direction of the business.
So it's not unusual to see a three-tier process for developing the strategic plan. Starting with the owners – to align the business with their personal goals – moving onto the senior management team – where the guts of the work is done – and then finishing with a guided ideas and education session for the whole company. It sounds like a lot of time, but in practice it gets fantastic results.
Julia Bickerstaff's expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses:Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of "How to Bake a Business" and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).