Involving External Communicators in the Strategic Planning Process
Most of the time when an organization seeks a communications partner it’s because they’re requesting support around tactics like media relations, social media or website development. However, one area where the involvement of communicators is often overlooked is the strategic planning process. Why is it important to regularly reflect on your strategic plan? It provides your organization with the necessary tools to chart its course for the next chapter in its success story.
Recently, I was involved in a client’s strategic planning process and it was invigorating. This particular organization has a storied past of helping patients and their families. Having just celebrated its 40th anniversary, the organization was interested in developing a solid strategic plan that would help meet the future needs of its patient advocacy community. JPA was brought on to support the process as a third-party facilitator.
To kick-off the strategic planning project, we conducted in-depth interviews (IDIs) with company leadership and board members to capture their insights and aspirations for the future of the organization. As a third-party facilitator, we were able to encourage people to provide more honest feedback about the organization. At the start of each IDI, we explained the value of their candor during these conversations and promised all comments would remain anonymous. We used this critical background research to map out a comprehensive two-day planning session to be held with company leadership, board members and select staff.
During the final planning stages for the meeting, we carefully considered details, such as the layout of the meeting room space and the types of office supplies we’d use (colorful stickers and sticky notes to “vote” for ideas). We coordinated with the event staff to select appropriate tables for the room (round tables allow for better conversations than square). We also developed seating charts for each day to ensure variety at each table and give participants a chance to get to know someone they didn’t normally work with (and to not feel pressured to agree with their boss). Our goal for the meeting was to create an environment that would inspire the group to let go of old ideas and embrace new ones.
As external communicators, we were able to raise tough questions to the group and they felt emboldened to share their ideas openly in the safe space we’d created. The two-day planning session was met with great enthusiasm. Each participant in the room was engaged in the session and expressed an eagerness to raise challenges and opportunities to resolve them. Openness and honesty truly made it a much stronger process. By the end of the meeting, everyone in the room was in high spirits—ready to take on assignments that would help make their organization shine.
Do you think your organization is in need of a new strategic plan? If so, take a moment to consider the following: What are the biggest challenges you face? Where will you need to be in 5-7 years? Next, think about how an external communicator may be able to help you think outside the box to reach your goals. Good luck and be ready to dream big ideas for your organization!