Supporting staff in contributing to strategic planning

Tell them that change is less difficult when considered in advance—and other tips.

Staff members often see strategic planning as unfamiliar and threatening. It means change, and especially in smaller organizations with long-tenured teams, change can be difficult and significantly disruptive. Employees need to understand that change will come whether they plan for it or not and that they have a much better chance of managing the future by considering what it means before it arrives.

The key to engagement in planning discussions is the ability to move beyond the day-to-day to think about the bigger picture. Often people who are operationally strong can struggle to move past the way things currently work to think about the way things might be. The critical challenge is creating an environment that supports open sharing of ideas and perspectives without judgment (avoiding the 18-second manager problem, which is the topic of a great video from Tom Peters). Sometimes, those who are comfortable with strategy unintentionally intimidate those who are unexperienced because they push back too quickly or challenge or dismiss new and different ideas.

It takes time for teams to form and become effective. That means expectations need to be defined before the process starts. You cannot suddenly bring staff into the process and expect them to be able to immediately acclimate to and engage with a group that has been together many times. The forming, storming, norming, performing stages need to happen, and that takes time. If you are including new people in the planning process, prepare them beforehand and make sure the entire team has experienced being together before the planning session takes place. You can’t just throw everyone into the room, ask them to think about the future and expect them to engage in a meaningful way.


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