Planning a strategic event
Time frame for planning
The nature of the event
Objectives for the
Facilitation of the event
It is surprising how
often important events, such as strategic planning discussions, are poorly planned.
This is all the more surprising when the costs of the event (the venue,
attendance by a number of senior people - some from far bases - and loss
of routine time) and the long-term impact of the discussions are considered.
This article offers some pointers on how to ensure that the strategic
event is well-planned and effective.
FRAME FOR PLANNING
Planning for an event
should commence well before the intended date. The following factors can
influence the time required to finalize the event:
The participants: are they from one location,
or nationwide, or international? Are they from the company only, or
do they include visitors/speakers from other organizations? (Where company participants from
one location only are to be invited, the planning time is shortest (possibly
as short as 4 weeks); where participants are drawn from different organizations
and physical locations, planning time is longest (this can be as long as
3 - 4 months).
The venue: is it a popular venue? (Finding an open date may be difficult).
for example, a formal environmental scan is to be conducted as background
to the discussions, adequate time should be allowed for this purpose.
it is intended to invite a high-profile speaker, he/she may only be available
a couple of months into the future. This is especially true when it
is intended to invite a senior politician or government employee.
The Facilitator: is a suitable Facilitator for the
event available on the intended date?
In general, the shortest
possible planning horizon for a purely internal event where the participants
are in one physical location (or relatively close by) is probably of the order
of two weeks. At the other end of the spectrum, an event drawing on a
variety of participants (possibly internationally) may require planning to commence
up to one year before the intended date.
The nature of the
event has an influence on the planning process. Consider whether the event
at which information is shared.
The nature of the
event determines the composition of the participants. If it is to be a
strategic planning event, issues of participation arise. Who are the stakeholders
to the planning? In general, a stakeholder may be defined as:
or group who will be influenced by the decisions taken, or who may influence
the nature of the decisions.
stakeholders hold authority, power and influence over the decisions, and should
be made participants to the process in some way. This creates the difficulty
of escalating numbers of participants. A serious planning meeting within
a single organization should ideally have no more than 30 participants (10 -
20 is an ideal number). If the stakeholders exceed reasonable numbers,
subsidiary events or follow-up events should be considered.
The nature of the
event also determines the physical arrangements required for the event. A
strategic planning meeting should ideally be held in a private space, with U-shaped
seating so that the participants may actively interact with one another. Events
which are aimed more at conveying information than on interaction, would typically
require auditorium-style seating where the emphasis falls on the effective use
of audio-visual aids and on speaker visibility.
THE OBJECTIVES FOR THE EVENT
There is probably
no single issue of greater importance than defining adequately the objectives
for the event. Robert Mager, the great guru of instructional objectives
in the 'sixties and 'seventies, used to say that "if you do not know where you are going, you are likely
to end up somewhere else and not even know it". A variation of this is: "If you do not know where you are going, any road
will take you there".
Objectives for an
event should be specific, and should indicate the expected outcome of the event.
A statement such as "to discuss strategic issues" is not specific
enough. A more specific set of objectives might be the following:
determine business strategy for the XYZ Company for the
next three years.
To determine the likely effects on the business of
(a, b and c)
To determine possible strategies to optimize business
To determine a follow-up action plan for implementation
before the end of the year
A set of
well-defined objectives for an event will:
visualizing the nature and format of the event for planning purposes
to participants what they can expect and should achieve
Act as guidelines
to the Facilitator as to how the group should be facilitated
organizers in determining the success of the event
better quality output.
Prior planning should
include consideration of the following details:
Venue - determined by factors such as accessibility,
facilities and availability of suitable dates. A special venue, such
as a nature reserve or other special environment is often chosen, especially
when overseas participants are invited, but may require early booking to
invitations - these
should go out in initial format as soon as objectives and dates have been
determined in order to enable participants to set aside the dates. At
this early stage, the programme is usually not finalized, and further documentation
should go to participants when the programme has been finalized. The
second set of documents should also include any prior reading matter, maps
to the venue, and for participants from outlying locations or overseas,
the travel arrangements.
support - there should
be adequate arrangements for administrative support both to participants
and organizers. This usually takes the form of secretarial services
(ideally provided by a secretary from the organizers' organization). Such
support is required before the event (sending out invitations, making travel
arrangements, ensuring that stationary supplies and equipment are provided),
during the event (taking messages, providing photocopies, liaising with
the venue management, assisting delegates with amended travel arrangements
etc.), and after the event (ensuring that planning documentation is sent
to all participants, updating contact lists and managing the various invoices
arising from the event).
Programming - the program should be drawn up to
ensure adequate time for the individual items, especially where intensive
group discussion is envisaged. A common mistake is to load the program
too heavily or to include items not directly related to the objectives ("...since we will have everybody
together we might as well include...."). Considerable program difficulties can arise
where a large number of speakers (for example all regional and branch managers)
are asked to provide a series of short inputs. It is often assumed
that 12 speakers, each speaking for 5 minutes, can be accommodated within
the space of an hour. This just does not work, since
(a) very few
non-professional speakers ever manage to stay within their time limits;
(b) each speaker
has to come to the podium be introduced, be thanked after the presentation
and then leave the podium - this can easily take up a couple of minutes,
especially if the speakers wish to use PowerPoint presentations and
have to find (or even worse, load) the presentation files;
participants may wish to ask questions or make comments.
The program should
also be flexible enough to allow for cases where an issue unexpectedly assumes
serious dimensions, and needs to be talked through before the rest of the
program can be considered (this happens frequently where the stakeholders
perceive a threat in a proposed approach).
events - if any subsidiary
events are considered (such as plant visits, game drives and the like),
these should be fully discounted in the programme. A game drive commencing
at, say, 17h00, implies that the formal programme should end at 16h00 in
order to allow participants the opportunity to change and prepare for the
and furnishing - the
venue management will have to be advised in good time what seating arrangements
and audio-visual equipment will be required. Despite prior arrangements
and agreements, the meeting administrator and the Facilitator should carry
out a check on these issues well in advance of the starting time of the
clarification - it
is extremely important that the event organizer, the senior managers involved
in the event and the Facilitator agree beforehand which roles they will
play during the event. For example, the most senior decision-maker
at the meeting will often wish to participate in the discussions without
his/her comments being taken as final decisions. In such a case, the
Facilitator will need to provide a clear indication that, in discussion,
all participants carry equal weight, and will have to manage carefully the
extent to which the discussion becomes skewed because of other participants
deferring to the senior decision-maker. By the same token, if a Facilitator
is used during the course of the event, his/her authority over the meeting
needs to be agreed beforehand - it can easily happen that a senior participant
wishes to enforce alternative approaches and models, which makes the task
of the Facilitator well-nigh impossible.
away from the talk-shop
- no strategic event should be held without very clear action planning at
the end. The program should include adequate time for follow-up planning,
which should consist of specific actions designed to ensure that issues
decided upon are taken further. Nothing de-motivates and irritates
participants more than, at the end of the event, hearing something like
the following: "Thank
you for your valuable inputs. These will certainly be considered.
Please drive home safely".
FACILITATION OF THE EVENT
prefer to engage an independent Facilitator for strategic events. This
has a number of advantages, including the following:
Facilitator stands outside the politics of the organization, and has nothing
to gain by supporting a particular organizational viewpoint
Facilitator is not part of the organizational hierarchy, and therefore does
not have to defer to any individual or group within the organization
Facilitator will be able to handle conflicts and differences of opinion
in a manner which will maintain a positive climate during the session
will manage the programme and the various discussions in a manner which
ensures that all the planned business is attended to in the available time
Facilitator will be able to add value during the event (by providing perspectives
arising from his/her experience with similar issues in other organizations)
and after the event (by providing the principal with a broader strategic
perspective on the discussions and strategic impact of the decisions
as manager of the discussion session, can create a climate in which all
the participants feel free to express their opinions without having to defer
to seniority. By the same token, he/she can free up the more senior
members of the participants to participate actively in the debate without
having to worry about maintaining order
Facilitator can elicit a broad spectrum of opinions on a particular issue,
and then draw these together to find a consensus approach which is likely
to be acceptable to the majority of the participants.
In our experience,
a deep level of wisdom and insight exists within an organization. A strategic
planning session is a fairly quick and inexpensive way in which to tap this
insight, and to design strategies and approaches which have a good chance of
success, since they tend to be viewed as "our solutions" and not as
"their solutions". However, considerable planning is required
to make the session productive and positive, and if planning is poor and execution
of the event is flawed, it can have a surprisingly negative impact. We
trust that this short article has given you some pointers in the right direction.
StratFac offers a comprehensive and professional strategic
facilitation service, from conceptualization of the event through to planning
follow-up actions after the event. We can be contracted to handle
any project from a simple one-off facilitation, to a complete strategic
planning exercise, including planning events and organization redesign in
support of strategy.
Back to main page
Copyright 2003 by StratFac cc. All Rights Reserved.