ChangeSameWe’ve all been involved in those strategic planning sessions where you get locked in a room, hold hands, sing Kumbaya, feel really excited for about 3 days and then everyone goes back to doing everything the same old way they did before the session. They are a total waste of time. I call those sessions “Forced Family Fun”. They give strategic planning a bad name.

Let’s talk about a way to make the time and effort put into a strategic plan that will actually MAKE A DIFFERENCE for your organization.

I’ve been facilitating strategic planning sessions for nearly 20 years, first as SVP Strategic Planning for Fisher-Price and then shaping events in the real estate industry for many of the nation’s leading MLSs and Associations, tech companies and brokerages.  We never stop learning about ways to make the process more effective in driving meaningful evolution and change for organizations.

While our recommended strategic planning processes are ever-changing, there are five general principles that we suggest:

  1. Get Informed

Before beginning a strategic planning effort, the organization must introspect and examine its strengths and weaknesses.  Ideally every constituency is involved in this process – agents, brokers, office managers, transaction coordinators, Executive leadership, staff and most importantly, the real estate consumer.  Every one of us ultimately serves the needs of those that buy and sell homes.  It’s important to capture each of their perspectives so the discussion at the actual session includes a well-rounded look at the organization, market and key challenges and opportunities.

  1. Get Inspired

Discussions as fundamental as Strategic planning cannot be done without raising the level of open-mindedness and inspiration.  The group needs to be in the right “state” in order to push the discussion to exciting and even scary places.  We start with inspirations via videos and exercises that force each participant to get beyond their own insecurities, limitations and biases so that they contribute fully to the success of the session.  Without this step, strategic planning will fall flat and the discussion will most likely fall into the minutiae, avoiding the most important topics.

  1. Ask the Tough Questions

Is your group afraid to ask the tough questions like…. Do you subscribers really need us?    Are we actually helping our agents to be successful?    Have we created a true “connection” to our clients?   If you don’t ask these types of baseline questions, you are going to end with a program that arranges the deck chairs, instead of charting a course to the new world.

Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb to a discussion that might have unpredictable outcomes.   It makes the job of a facilitator tougher, but the discussion much more ground-breaking and valuable.

Also, don’t be afraid to switch gears mid-stream based on where the conversation is going.

Finally, don’t ignore the elephants in the room.  If there’s a conflict among the group that has been simmering for years get it out on the table and let the emotions get fleshed out.  Only then can the group start to focus on the real issues at hand, not the old political and even personal grudges that are slowing you down.   These can sometimes look like “interventions”, but they can be very cathartic.

  1. Set Tangible and REACH Goals

Taking the information shared from your customers, staff and leadership and marrying it with industry trends and your own discussion, define no more than 3 to 5 tangible goals.  At least one of them should involve longer term goals which will take the organization to a new level of industry leadership, success and prominence. If every goal can be achieved in the next 6 months then you’re probably not thinking big enough.

The goals should be articulated in open-ended terms like…. In what ways can we create life-long, collaborative relationships with our current members?  as opposed to “Launch a new Client Relationship Management System.”   The second sentence may be one of the tactics you use to achieve the first larger goal. If you get too narrow in your goals, you will limit creative thinking down the road.

Importantly goals need to be articulated in inspirational terms.  When you read them they need to help you envision a much more exciting world for the organization to operate in.  Use words that get the strategic planning participants excited to help make their organization the absolutely best it can be.

  1. Hold Yourself Accountable

Unless you want your strategic planning just to be a wasted effort, it is critical that the goals of the strategic plan become integral and tied to the day to day activities of the staff and the discussion at every board/company meeting.

Once the goals are set, action plans with responsibilities, timelines and budgets are outlined and approved. Then every month there are updates on progress and course corrections as needed.

Importantly, for every goal, there needs to be quantitative benchmarks outlined along with the method they will be tracked. For example, if you are trying to improve customer satisfaction, the company will want to field regular customer satisfaction surveys and track satisfaction of support calls in terms of response time, ability to address the question asked etc.

The best ways to measure progress against benchmarks is to show progress trends with graphs so everyone can visually the progress being made.

Good luck with your strategic planning efforts!  If you would like some input or advice on your process or need help fielding customer satisfaction research or facilitating strategic planning, text me at 805 748-9118 and I’ll be happy to help!