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How To Dominate Your Strategic Planning Session

I’m a nerd. I LOVE strategic planning! There is something about the excitement of change, progress, and collaboration with my team that gets me jazzed! Throughout my banking career, I have been involved in various levels of Strategic Planning from market level to executive level and I always walk away energized and ready to conquer the world. (I’m assuming some of you are rolling your eyes at this point. If you are, hang with me.)

My first exposure to being a part of the bigger picture was several years ago while I was working for another bank. I was recognized as a “young person with promise” and was invited to attend the bank’s market level annual planning. I was THRILLED to be invited. I did all of the required pre-work and stayed fully engaged the entire day. I was in heaven. I also likely talked way too much and came off way overly zealous, but in my mind, I was going to be a change maker and to me that was important. A year or so later at the same bank, I was invited to the top level annual planning and I was over the moon. I spent the day out of state at a resort with a few hundred coworkers sharing our ideas from the front lines, coming up with solutions, and feeling like we were really part of pushing the bank toward the future.

Since that time, I have had the opportunity to be involved in many other strategic planning sessions; some effective, some not-so-effective. While every organization has their own ways of planning for the future that best fits their culture, I believe you can really bomb a strategic planning session if you don’t do a few of the following suggestions:

Open with an ice breaker | Sound corny? Yes, maybe, but choosing a fun ice breaker that builds trust among your team is a great way to get started on the right foot. Tailor it to your team and get people out of their comfort zone. Need ideas? Check here.

Do your homework | In preparation for the meeting, execute a team member survey that gets the pulse of your organization’s culture. You should always be listening to your front line and their input will prove to be valuable when doing SWOT analysis. Want a team that is loyal and bought in? Ask for their feedback and actually do something with it. (See my notes below about the Grand Savings Bank Grand Planning Session held in advance of our annual strategic planning). 

GSB team members doing the human knot ice breaker at a recent Strategic Planning Session.

Keep the group small | Effectively planning the future of your organization isn’t a time to worry about stepping on toes or including everyone to avoid hurt feelings. Keep the group small and intimate with team members that have the best interest of your organization at heart, are committed to making change happen, and can be effective in producing solutions and results. I’ve been part of planning sessions where multiple people, while important to the organization and respectable employees, had no business being there due to the fact that they offered very little input to the meeting and clouded the room by preventing serious conversations from happening. On the flip side, I have participated in sessions where the group was kept small and intentional. The meeting went extremely well and some tough, yet important conversations took place that otherwise would not have with a larger group.

Use a facilitator to stay on target | Squirrel! We all have those teammates that have so much energy and excitement that they tend to go down rabbit holes and bounce all over the place, making it hard to stay focused. While those teammates might essential to include in the group, it is extremely important to utilize an external facilitator to keep discussion on track. You might even consider a trigger word that politely reminds everyone that they are straying off topic. If you fail to implement this step, you run the risk of wasting precious time.

Actually do something with your results | Condense your discussion points into action items and act on them! Appoint them to committees, create focus groups, and properly communicate them to your team. Communication is a HUGE piece of employee engagement and morale. When they are properly informed about what’s coming down the pipe, your buy-in factor will increase and everyone wins. Doing a regular follow up on progress doesn’t hurt either. People get busy, and surprise, new strategic items will appear during the year!


GSB Grand Planning | In the summer of 2019, we implemented Grand Planning- that’s GSB Talk for a strategic planning session for non-executive employees that show the most promise as future leaders of the organization. We are a small bank, roughly $500 million in assets, so it was relatively easy to put together, but could be modified for larger organizations by keeping the principal that it’s important to get feedback and input from your up-and-comer’s. Our executive team nominated team members and the Grand Planning Committee selected attendees based on a set of values predetermined by the committee. The event was held offsite, away from the bank, and provided networking for employees that normally didn’t interact with each other, Our CEO was on hand to interact and listen to the suggestions in the relaxed environment to give the attendees face time with him as well.

The group started with brunch, a fun ice breaker, and were then placed into groups to tackle what processes, procedures, or things in general that were broken at the bank. We brought all groups together to go over their findings then took a break for lunch. After lunch we did an outside team building activity and then went back into the same groups to focus on how to repair the broken processes and procedures at the bank. This required the team to think like executives, keeping the entire bank’s best interest at heart; not just their specific department or branch.

As we concluded, the entire group was presented with a special swag bag and a handwritten note from the executive that had nominated them. By the end of of the day. bridges were formed between employees that normally sat on opposites of the aisle, (i.e. producer vs processor, Arkansas employee vs Oklahoma employee, etc.) and new connections were created or even repaired. They were all challenged to follow up with fellow attendees that they enjoyed connecting with via email or with their own handwritten note to continue the newfound relationships. We rounded out the afternoon with a happy hour. (Wine not?)

We then combined the information gathered from the day and proposed at Strategic Planning in the fall. While some great suggestions and takeaways came from the day, the networking, connecting, and morale boost that occurred as a result of the event were priceless.

Have more questions about our Grand Planning? Email me here!

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