Meetings are an important component of virtually any business. In the past, it was not uncommon for meeting participants to board a plane and fly to another coast or international locations.
This was necessary to ensure that all of the company divisions met face to face and were on the same page, but it cost a great deal of money. Travelling extensively meant that certain employees could not perform their regular jobs for potentially days at a time.
Thankfully, online meetings have changed all of that without compromising professional bonding. In fact, many of the technologies available today make staying in touch so much easier, which allows professional relationships to be stronger than ever and require less of a time commitment.
Creating a strategic plan for your business is a critical task for the leadership of every company.
If you don’t decide where you’re headed, you will lead aimlessly. People will follow your direction, but they won’t have context, insight into to your actions, or an understanding of how they can best contribute.
Any planning requires time and focused attention, yet with a few simple rules, building a strategic plan can be accomplished with less effort than most people think.
Best of all, once you create the plan, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Everyone in your organization can move in the same direction toward a common set of goals.
Mapping Your Strategic Plan
Building a strategic plan is like creating a map. It has directions for how an organization will accomplish any given strategy. The plan (map) explains where a company is going and the methods (roads) people will take to get there.
When your team decides to come together and build the plan, be sure to include all relevant stakeholders in the process. Without them, you’ll have less commitment to the final outcome.
Many leaders understand the value of planning, but neglect to go through with it for a myriad of reasons. Time constraints, knowledge of the process, or perceived high cost can all be obstacles to executing.
Here are 5 great reasons to get your team together to create a strategic plan as soon as possible:
You get to set priorities Provide clarity by letting your team know the most important initiatives for the organization.
You get buy-in on company direction If everyone contributes to the process, they'll be more supportive of the outcomes.
Your team will have alignment When your team has a mutual understanding of and agreement on the company's goals, they'll work together more effectively.
You can simplify what you'll work on Once you limit yourself to a set of specific goals, you can be liberated to work on just those goals.
As a leader, you can communicate your vision Once you document your company's vision, not only can you clear your head of thinking about it, but everyone around you (employees, vendors, leadership) can contribute to achieving the vision sooner.
On the TV show The Profit, Marcus Lemonis teaches that “people, process and product” are the three keys to a successful business. As Chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises, he leads close to 6,000 employees in over 100 cities across the US. I’ll take that as a credible source.
There are numerous processes out there to run a business, manage people, and develop products, yet almost all of them are geared toward in-person communication.
What happens when your team is distributed, and rarely sees each other in person?
Remote work is a reality in companies everywhere - whether employees are on a different floor, co-located in offices across multiple cities, or in a remote home office location working solo.
We've published a wealth of information on remote work over the years. We sifted through it all and pulled out the five pieces we felt every remote team can and should have in their process toolkit - the foundations - and wrapped them up into a neat little package.
Today's post is the last in our series. Now that we've got the whole package out there, it's time to ask the hard questions.
Does this approach to strategic planning actually work?
Is the plan you get at the end worth the time it takes to create?
Designed by Anna O’Byrne at Upstream Meetings, the process outlined in the Toolkit is meant to help larger organizations conduct planning with a distributed workforce. For big companies, it provides an effective way to run the annual planning process and save thousands on travel costs.
The surprise for us was how well this process works for small businesses, regardless of whether they work remotely or all at one location. The Toolkit provides a do-it-yourself guide to planning that a busy small business can use to quickly create a usable plan. Broken out into several short sessions that run over the course of one to three weeks, this approach not only saves travel expenses, it also means you don’t have to shut down the company for a full day while your team plans.
This approach to planning is practical, affordable, and effective.
How do I know? We’re a small business, and we ran through the whole thing ourselves. Here’s our story.
We test every new meeting template before it’s published to the Lucid template gallery. We check for typos and configuration problems, and we test to see if the flow feels right. Sometimes that’s pretty hard, because we don’t always have a need for that template ourselves at the time.
It took our team just 55 minutes to run through the whole process, as you can see from this report snapshot.
Feedback from the Team: What did you learn from this experience?
For the most part, this exercise confirmed that we are aligned on the key elements of working together as a team. I was mildly surprised that we didn't have a common way of using Slack - I tend to keep it open 100% of the time, running as a separate application with alert badging on the icon in my OS X dock. This means I tend to be very interruptible and responsive to @ requests. Everyone else uses Slack in a web browser tab, with only sporadic checking. This lets them focus more, but also means they don't necessarily respond as quickly to pings in Slack. Very good to know, as my assumption was different!
We also did not have a clear commitment to joint, overlapping working hours, so that was good to iron out. And finally, I came away feeling that we had made a documented, mutual commitment to a behavioral standard that worked for everyone. It's very powerful to see that agreement in writing.
I learned that although we are on the same page for most of the ways we work together, defining it as a team in writing provides a nice clarity.
For instance, hearing that everyone uses Slack in a slightly different way helps me understand how to better collaborate with the team. Based on our discussions, I have modified my notifications a bit and switched to the browser instead of the app version.
The big surprise for me was that we really don't use email to communicate with each other very much. This has evolved over time, and we certainly all still check our email several times a day.
If I'd thought about this, it would have been obvious, but I hadn't really noticed the change - probably because my inbox still shows 5,000+ unread messages. But as far as internal communication goes, we pretty much use email only to communicate with clients, partners, and other people outside the company.
Once you have an established vision and mission, it's time to figure out exactly what you'll do to achieve them. The Complete Toolkit for Strategic Planning with Remote Teams breaks this work into two sessions. In the first, the team establishes a series of high-level goals, and in the second, they define the specific strategies they'll employ to achieve these goals.
The information that follows is an excerpt from Anna O'Byrne's detailed Guide that accompanies these templates.
How Goals & Strategies Fit in the Essential Strategic Plan
The Essential Strategic Plan is concerned with what you want to achieve – your "ends" – and how you’ll attain these ends, at a high-level. The "essentials" covered in this series of meetings make up the core of your strategic direction.
The vision, mission and values define your organizational identity; your very brand. They become the filter through which you evaluate new opportunities, and can drive day-to-day decisions.
Goals and strategies define where you’ll focus energy and resources.
True to its name, the Essential Strategic Plan covers the basics; a minimal but fully functional strategic plan. Depending on your organization, you may wish to plan to a finer level of detail. For example, you might break down broad strategies into more discrete tactics. Tactics are actionable steps towards achieving your goals. You can also break down goals into specific, measurable objectives. Then, as you define measures, you can capture these in a scorecard to monitor your progress.
Here at Lucid, we're fans of Lisette Sutherland's work with remote teams on CollaborationSuperpowers.com, Happy Melly, and her blog at lisettesutherland.com. When we saw her post on creating a working agreement for remote teams, we thought it was a great idea that would make for a really useful meeting template.
Happily, Lisette agreed to share her technique with us! Read on for her quick overview, and you'll find links to the template at the end.
On remote teams, there are plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings. We can solve some of the basic miscommunications through the process of creating a team agreement: a basic set of expectations for how you want to work together as a team. It’s also a great way to learn about each others working styles.
The ICC Worfkflow
Phil Montero from The Anywhere Office has created a great process for getting the discussion started. He calls it the “ICC workflow”, which stands for Information, Communication, and Collaboration.
Start by asking your team these questions:
Information: What kinds of information do you need to share? Is there a centralized task system? A shared calendar? Do you need access to a database? An intranet?
Communication: How will you communicate with each other? Some people might prefer having live discussions in-person, over the phone or via video chats, and others might prefer email or instant messaging. What are your expected response times? Do you need to set core hours?
Collaboration: How will you know what tasks are being worked on? How will you give each other feedback?
Have you ever tried strategic planning without first getting your vision and mission right? What did you find?
If you were a small, cohesive group, maybe you breezed through goal-setting based on complete unity. It happens, but it’s rare.
For everyone else, here’s what typically happens:
You generate ho hum goals: goals that just don’t stretch the team.
It sometimes feels like you’re writing a to-do list, rather than a strategic plan.
You sign-on for strategies that are far-removed from what you see as your core business.
In short, strategic planning takes far too long and feels anything but strategic. You look at the end result and fear you’ve created a Frankenstein: pieces from here, pieces from there, with no final coherence.
And the challenges don’t end at strategy. Teams that operate without vision and mission feel the effects everywhere.
How? Here are some everyday signs you need a vision and mission:
Your branding feels disjointed or superficial.
People outside don’t get what you’re all about.
People inside don’t see their work as meaningful.
You zig and zag to meet opportunity, but you get no closer to your dream.
If a vision and mission are this important, why would anyone skip it?
First, we’re all pressed for time. Vision and mission sometimes feel like the extras we’ll get to when we have space to breathe...or when we hold our next retreat.
Second, we make assumptions. Many teams believe they’re on the same page when it comes to where they’re going, but when they sit down to plan strategically, the gaps become glaringly evident.
Finally, we misunderstand the value of having relevant, vivid, fully thought out vision and mission statements.
With this process, you’re aiming for a strategic plan that’s rooted in a clear understanding of your current situation, and that lays out a framework for moving forward that your whole team understands and embraces. As Steve Blank so clearly stated, Strategy is Not a To Do List. This leaves no room for chocolate-snarfing freeloaders in the process; everyone must actively contribute to building the plan for it to succeed.
To run strategic planning with a remote team, you must increase each participant’s individual responsibility for preparing and working outside the meeting. It’s the only way to get through planning within the time during which people can effectively engage online.
The happy side-effect: when your team does get together, every person will come with key insights and will actively contribute ideas that shape the resulting plan. When people are this involved in the process, they will also buy-in to implement the plan! This plan will be their baby, not some execu-garblety-gook destined for the round file.
4 Questions to Answer Before You Begin Strategic Planning
Do you need to create a strategic plan, and wonder how to go about the strategic planning process? Concerned whether that process can even work with remote teams?
Meet Anna O’Byrne.
Anna is the founder and principle at Upstream Meetings, where she focuses on facilitating the strategic planning process with remote teams. When Anna contacted us about a blog post, we starting talking about the unique challenges of leading strategic planning with remote teams.
We decided to explore the topic further by collaborating on a series of meeting templates that a could be used to guide a remote team through the strategic planning process.
Working Together to Bring Strategic Planning Online
Anna, who’s the expert here on strategic planning, outlined a series of meeting agenda templates and instructions for running those meetings. We then set these agendas up in Lucid Meetings, and tested out each process for ourselves, making small adjustments along the way based on our expertise in online meetings. We even ran one of the meetings twice, with Anna facilitating late at night from her Australian outpost.
This blog post is the first in a series about our experience building these strategic planning meeting templates together. The templates themselves are available in the template gallery.
Today’s post provides the context: what the strategic plan looks like, who these templates are for, and the problems unique to online planning they’re designed to solve.
In the following posts, we’ll go over:
How to prepare for strategic planning.
The 5 meetings that make up the real-time part of the strategic planning process.
Online software options that make the brainstorming part of the process easier (think sticky notes on the web).
Our experience walking through this process with the team at Lucid Meetings.
Along the way, we’re looking for your ideas and feedback. Strategic planning may be old, but planning like this with people all over the world is pretty new, and we definitely don’t have all the answers yet.
Ingredients for the Essential Strategic Plan
There are five parts to this plan, and five templates that run you through how to create them. When you’re done, the entire plan should fit on one or two pages when printed out.