7 Rules for Effective Strategic Planning

roundtablemeetingEveryone loves being part of a creative process where ideas are flying and your team hits upon “the” idea. And most of us have also been in a room where one comment shut down conversation completely and deflated the whole creative process. Good planning environments reinforce creative brainstorming, while reducing the number of comments that slow the team down. Here are the 7 rules (in no particular order) I use when leading strategic planning to ensure that the creative juices flow and that conversation doesn’t get stunted.

Rule #1: Yes, and
The first rule of improv comedy is “yes, and.” The idea is simple: instead of rejecting the suggestion of a teammate, you accept the comment and build off it. No using “no” or “but.” Example: If someone says the ball is blue, no responding with “No it’s not, it’s green.” Instead, you add on and say, “yes, and it bounces very high.” It works in improv comedy… and it works in strategy planning.

Rule #2: 4 score and 7 years ago
This is the no speeches rule. Ever been in a meeting and someone goes off for 10 minutes about, well, you don’t even remember because you stopped listening a minute and a half in? In a brainstorming environment, you may need to clarify your suggestion, but a “no speeches” rule should control for the person who wants to prove his point and why he’s right… and it will probably eliminate some rabbit trails as well.

Rule #3: More, more, more
In brainstorming, quantity of ideas matters more than quality. Get the ideas on the table. There will always be opportunity later to go back and eliminate or refine ideas. But make sure you get them on the table first. The more the better. My dumb idea might be the spark for your brilliant idea… but we’ll never know if my dumb idea gets shot down too soon.

Rule #4: No killer phrases
Few things will shut down the creative process faster than a killer phrase. “We’ve never done it that way before.” “It’s too expensive.” “We tried that before and it failed.” Those are all the same thing: killer phrases. Actionability is important… but not until later in the process.

Rule #5: 100/80 rule
Rarely is 100% unanimity possible. And rarely is it even worth pursuing. To be honest, unanimity in a vote probably means someone compromised or gave in, not that everyone is content with the decision. Make consensus, not compromise, the goal. Make the goal that 100% of the people are 80% satisfied. That means that everyone got something they wanted or think is the right course of action, but no one got it “their way.”

Rule #6: You can’t handle the truth
Creative processes need absolute, brutal honesty. They also need kindness. Encourage people to be forthright and not hold anything back, but to do so in a way that is addressing the issue, not attacking the person. So facilitate honest communication, but make it about the topic at hand. Don’t ever let people attack one another. Truth with kindness. No attacking.

Rule #7: All involved
Make sure that everyone is involved in the process, specifically inviting those who are more naturally quiet or reserved to participate. In most environments, there are a couple of people who talk even when they have nothing to say, and others who hesitate to talk even when they have something profound to say. If you notice someone who is not speaking up, turn to the person and say, “Jen, what’s your thought on that?” Some people are verbal processors and need to speak to bring clarity even to their own thoughts and others who are internal processors whose insight might be lost without specifically asking for it.

Well, there you go. When I lead a strategic planning process, I always start by going over these rules. Trust me, it’s worth the 5-10 minutes to establish these helpful ground rules. And hey, if you want to have some fun with it, give everyone in the room a soft, squishy ball. If someone breaks a rule, everyone else gets to peg that person with their ball. Not only is it a playful way to reinforce the rules for effective strategic planning, it also creates a natural way to acknowledge and move past sometimes awkward or off-putting comments from a member of the team. Then everyone can get back to work… together.



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