Strategic Plans: Effective Collaboration with External Stakeholders and Staff
Strategic plans bring challenges for effective collaboration. The single biggest disruptor is participants staking out positions for their own political purposes. The source of the disruptor is often supporting external stakeholder positions or staff preferences. This article briefly looks at successfully resolving disruptions when developing a strategic plan.
Two Approaches for External Participation
Involving stakeholders (including customers) and staff is a helpful way to bring a full perspective to the strategic planning process. The related question is when and how to accomplish the involvement successfully.
Good arguments can be made for doing it initially to shape the plan. This usually comes in the form of a pre-event survey or brainstorming sessions. The board of directors and the facilitator then use the information to frame the strategic planning sessions.
Good arguments can also be made for bringing in the outside involvement near the end as a fine-tuning exercise. In this case, the board of directors forms the strategic plan as the organization’s policymakers. The fine-tuning from external input helps to avoid aspects that may be “non-starters” for implementing the plan and starts pushing buy-in from the organization.
When to Involve External Stakeholders
A stakeholder is a person, group, or organization with a vested interest or stake in the activities of a business, organization, or project. Stakeholders can have a direct or indirect influence on the activities of an organization. Their support is often required for success. Involving stakeholders in the strategic plan recognizes the political reality of the board of directors.
Stakeholder involvement produces less disruption when done before the board develops the strategic plan. Mature boards often feel connected to their stakeholders well enough to avoid external involvement early in the process.
When to Involve Staff
The argument against involving the organization’s staff is that strategic direction is the realm of policymakers. The staff's role is to execute the plan. This argument ignores the strategic plan is the foundation of the organization's management system. The strategic plan is, by definition, part of the integrated whole.
If there is an agreement to include the staff, the next questions are related to which levels and when to incorporate them. All levels of the organization should be included. The most efficient approach is to survey everyone and have one or more brainstorming sessions with executive management or senior staff.
Staff involvement should be done up-front to minimize disruption and with reverence to the board of directors’ obligation as the organization’s policymakers. Staff should not participate in the board’s development, deliberation, and debate of the plan. Staff should re-engage near the end of plan development to assist with the details of how the plan will be implemented.
Addressing Disruption from Stakeholder and Staff Participation
All facilitators should do the basics well. In addition, there are five ways to move your facilitation from good to great. These five ways are associated with the mental model CATER – Communicate, Ask, Trouble, Exercises, and Rhythm.
Overcoming disruption is often (and surprisingly) easier for higher-level strategic plans than for lower-level activities closer to implementation, such as business cases, capital-plan prioritization, or master plans.
Gaining consensus is much easier when facilitators remember that strategic plans are the highest level of organizational plan, have the longest timeframe for a mission and vision perspective, and have the least amount of immediate implementation details. Time is on your side.
Several techniques can be used to mitigate disruption:
Rely on the board chair and other influencers to work offline to mitigate the issue.
Remain as flexible as possible with word choice.
Refocus the participants on the more tangible action items, not the word choices.
Include study initiatives as a form of incremental progress for controversial projects.
Remind participants that it is only a plan.
Establish a culture of “I can live with it” rather than complete agreement.
Moving Forward with Strategic Plans
Strategic plans bring challenges for effective collaboration. The single biggest disruptor is participants staking out positions for their own political purposes. The source of the disruptor is often supporting external stakeholder positions or staff preferences. This article briefly examines when and where to involve external stakeholders and the organization’s staff. Six helpful tips for mitigating disruption are provided.
For more on using the CATER approach to facilitating strategic plans, contact JD Solomon or pick up a copy of Facilitating with FINESSE.
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JD Solomon is the author of Communicating Reliability, Risk & Resiliency to Decision Makers: How to Get Your Boss’s Boss to Understand and Facilitating with FINESSE: A Guide to Successful Business Solutions.