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3 No-Stress Tips for Preparing Strategic Planning

blogpost ownership strategy Feb 26, 2020

Preparing for strategic planning can be stressful. Before you book your conference room, spend time reflecting on these 3 ideas.

Strategic planning preparation is all about having the time and space to reflect on your business. But, we know that business owners are busy people. According to The Leader’s Calendar, the average CEO works 62.5 hours a week. As a result, a lot of business owners plan on the fly and when it comes to their strategy meetings, they struggle in two ways:

  1. They get lost in the planningIt’s hard to focus the conversation on the big picture when they’re so used to the daily grind of operations. This often happens to small business owners because they work so closely with their team—they may even be family! As a result, they spend their strategic planning meetings talking about the nitty-gritty.
  2. They get lost in the strategyWait, aren’t we supposed to talk strategy? Of course—with the aim of putting it into practice. When owners get enamored with their vision for the company, they can lose sight of the practical. Their strategy sessions are spent talking about an array of goals—but their dreams fall flat because of a lack of focus and follow-up.

 The issue in both of the scenarios above is a lack of reflection and (therefore) preparation. Perhaps they didn’t have a clear set of questions to keep the focus on strategy—or they did all their dreaming in the meeting because they didn’t have time to reflect prior.

 So here are three tips to help you get in the right mindset for better (and less stressful) strategic planning.

1. Don't try to do it all at once.

We’ve talked before about how you’re probably too busy for strategic planning. If this is you, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t need to block off hour-long stretches on your calendar. Reflective and creative thinking often happens while you do something else, like taking a 15-minute walk. Emma Seppälä at the Harvard Business Review shares:

Google’s Bastholm recommends any physical, relatively mundane activity: “Vacuum the house. Get on an elliptical at the gym. Paint a fence. Anything that will allow your brain to work in the background.”

Working for short bursts of time encourages creative problem-solving by keeping an idea at the top of your mind. For me, my drive home is often where I get some of my best thinking done. When I get an idea, I record and transcribe it on my phone using the app, Temi, so I can revisit it later.

2. Take Some Time By Yourself

It’s important to reflect without the influence of anyone else prior to your planning session. As McKinsey’s Chris Bradley says on the podcast, Inside the Strategy Room, strategic planning meetings can be fraught with social pressure: 

There are negotiations, there are egos, there are last year’s plans. There are other people, and you want to look good to them. There is so much else going on than just strategy.

If your team includes long-time friends or family members, it can be tough to come up with creative solutions during strategic meetings. But you don’t have to worry about anyone else’s feelings if you gather your thoughts in private.

If you’re an external processor (like me), talk through your ideas with someone outside your business, like a trusted friend or spouse, or out loud and record your answers.

3. Focus on Answering Specific Questions

You’ll find tons of articles with “50 essential questions for strategic planning”. But in my experience, it’s better to reflect deeply on fewer questions. You can get started with these eight questions and see where they take you:

  1. What is our mission?
  2. What are we best at both internally and externally?
  3. What do we do poorly? 
  4. What changes in the market can take advantage of?
  5. What changes should we be concerned about? 
  6. Do we have the right people on our team?
  7. Are we still going after the right customers? 
  8. If I fired myself and came back as the new boss, what would I do differently?

What to Consider…

You can take the stress out of strategic planning when you spend time by yourself reflecting on these eight questions.

And remember, you don’t need to set aside hours of time alone on a mountain top—a few 15-minute chunks of time here and there can give you the space to answer these important questions. Record your thoughts and revisit them when it’s time to meet with your team.

Then, you’ll be prepared for efficient strategy meetings that will benefit you throughout the year.