How to develop strategic priorities using a breakout session model
Many organizations create their five-year strategic plan and set it in stone, no matter the changes happening that may not fit within that plan. This could limit growth and create stagnancy. To make sure that doesn’t happen, check in on your plan routinely to make sure it is still moving you forward, not keeping you where you are.
A twist on the strategic planning meeting
We recently held a strategic planning meeting for a client who was asking “what’s next?" They have had great growth and developed a very successful stand-alone annual meeting. They had checked all of the boxes of their plan and are now free to explore other priorities that can create more exposure and growth for the organization.
This group does not have members, but the process we followed could certainly be adapted to a membership-based association. To ensure a wide range of opinions and input, all board and committee members were invited to attend the meeting along with representatives from partner organizations. A survey was sent to all invitees to get a sense of priorities for the annual meeting, communication with committee members (or members in general), and working with affiliated organizations. A copy of the survey results was sent to all the attendees prior to the meeting.
Prior to the meeting, the Treasurer worked with the organization's investment firm to come up with scenarios for the group to consider. Scenarios included spending additional dollars above current operating costs and made assumptions at aggressive investing versus more conservative investing. A copy of the strategy report was sent to all attendees to consider prior to the meeting and while discussing the priorities of the organization.
Topic areas to discuss during the planning session were developed and facilitators for each topic were selected. Facilitators were provided materials about their specific topic and some questions to consider as they facilitated their specific “workshop." These questions, along with the high-level survey results, financials, and a previous strategic planning report were sent to all attendees prior to the meeting.
Breakout sessions helped form priorities
The meeting started with a history of the organization. Since this association doesn’t have members, it was nice for those who hadn’t been as involved as others to hear about how they had grown and changed since inception.
Attendees were assigned to participate in one of the workshops during each of the four breakout sessions Participants were divided so that they all participated in each workshop and the same people wouldn’t always be in the same group. The first group in each workshop started at a fairly high level – essentially laying the ground work for the groups that followed. During each breakout group, the facilitators gave a brief recap of what happened in the group(s) prior and started to drill down into talking about creating new programs, policies, etc. At the end of day 1, the facilitators reported on the themes that came from their discussions. From those reports, staff identified 15 items that could be prioritized by the group.
On day 2, the treasurer gave a financial overview, helping attendees understand how adding programs or technology, etc. would impact the overall health of the organization’s finances. The 15 priorities were shown to the attendees and they voted on whether they were high, medium, or low priority (we asked that they choose 5 high, 5 medium and 5 low so that all were not high) and were weighted. Once the votes were all in, we reorganized the list and decided to dive in to the top five priorities.
After the planning session, the Executive Committee looked at the priorities and defined the scope of each. Three workgroups were developed to define infrastructure, administration and funding needed. As the workgroups move through their processes, they will be able to refer to the work that was done during the planning session and the financial overview to help guide their decisions and bring recommendations to the board.
This process has created stronger engagement in the organization and has started to define the “what’s next." Checking in on the progress of the workgroups and implementation of any new programs will be important in making sure that the “what’s next” is truly addressing the priorities of the organization and moving it forward.
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