Can technology-enabled planning save us time and increase our efficiency? Is this truly a Best Practice for 21st Century Leadership? The answer is ABSOLUTELY YES.
Consider the Case In Point written by the director of the International Leadership Association. She explains in detail their Board’s experience with this new Best Practice for 21st Century Leadership.
Leland Russell’s technology-enabled planning turned out to be a great fit with our desire to quickly and seamlessly link strategic thinking, planning, and action. — Shelly Wilsey, Director, International Leadership Association
Technology-Enabled Planning for ILA
One of the aspects of my role as Director of the International Leadership Association (ILA) that I love most is the opportunity to learn from some amazingly talented people. Leland Russell is one such person.
When we started our search for someone to facilitate our annual strategic planning, two of our board members, Mark Gerzon and Kathryn Johnson, highly recommended Leland Russell, President of GEO Group Strategic Services LLC.
Kathryn emphasized that Leland’s Winning In FastTime® approach is a Best Practice for 21st Century Leadership. It seamlessly blends virtual and face-to-face planning meetings by means of an intuitive online Collaboration System. Leland uses the System to accelerate engagement, build consensus, and shape winning strategies.
An Impossible Proposal
At our first design meeting four weeks before the retreat, Leland proposed that we prepare virtually using his Collaboration System. Rather than sending a series of emails, he proposed his online approach that would enable 3 iterations of thinking to unfold before we met face-to-face.
My immediate reaction was: “We have just four weeks! It’s impossible to schedule twenty-eight people for weekly online input and three online sessions that quickly!” I’m happy to say I was wrong.
We not only scheduled the online sessions but, using Leland’s Collaboration System, we achieved an 80% response rate to our 3 online surveys. Equally important, because it was intuitive our most technophobic board members easily utilized the system.
While not everyone was able to join every online session (due to scheduling conflicts), the virtual approach was a success. All of the board members arrived in Los Angeles already engaged in strategic thinking. As a result, our face-to-face time was more efficient, effective, and invigorating.
How Our Virtual Pre-Retreat Process Worked
After reviewing the ILA’s historical documents — SWOT surveys, an eight-year overview of our strategic planning milestones, our first and second five-year strategic plans, and the Strategic Initiative work plans — Leland advised us to step back and consider the big picture. In our first online survey, we answered three questions:
- What is missing today in the realm of leadership?
- What would make ILA truly unique in the realm of leadership and help drive our goal of strategic growth?
- What could be a breakthrough strategy at the center of all of the strategic planning, a strategy that would automatically engage and energize today’s members and attract many more members?
The board responded to these questions using the Collaboration System tools. Within a 48-hour window, each member picked the time the most convenient for them and entered their responses. The actual input required only 15-20 minutes.
After the online input was completed, Leland quickly synthesized the responses. He prepared a Theme Analysis for us to review during our first teleconference later that week. For example, in our responses to question “What would make ILA truly unique in the realm of leadership and help drive our goal of strategic growth?”
Leland identified three themes:
- Strategic Collaboration
- Knowledge Portal / Aggregator
- Cultural Leadership Expertise
The Theme Analysis Report included ALL of the responses under each theme. We could see the verbatim comments that supported each theme and who made them.
Leland emailed the report to the board prior to the first online session, so we had time to review it before we came together online.
How Our 60-Minute Online Sessions Worked
- We dialed into a conference call line and also logged into the System using a link that took us directly to an Interactive Agenda. Each agenda item contained an easy-to-use collaboration tool.
- Leland did a five-minute review of the key themes that emerged for question #1 and pointed out a few of the verbatim comments that had rich detail worth noting.
- During the next 10-minutes, Leland facilitated verbal discussion about what we were seeing on our screens.
- The verbal discussion was followed by about ten minutes for input using the online tools, which gave each of us an opportunity to add comments about the current ideas or add new ideas.*This input process gave everyone an equal voice and enabled everyone to communicate their views. Everyone could see all the ideas as they appeared on the screen in real-time.
- We repeated this process for questions #2 and #3 and quickly generated seven pages of ideas and remarks during the 60-minute virtual session.
The next week, our second online survey and the follow-up Collaboration System session focused on the status of our prior strategic planning – particularly the Key Strategic Issues defined in our prior plan.
For each issue, we answered two questions online:
- On a scale of 1-to-10, how effectively have we addressed this Strategic Issue over the past two years?
- What actions could the board or others take to increase our effectiveness in addressing this issue?
Here’s a really cool part about Leland’s Collaboration System: after each person entered their 1-to-10 rating, everyone saw all answers, an average rating score, the standard deviation, and the total votes in real time.
The two pre-retreat surveys and follow-up online meetings were extremely valuable because they focused on two equally important issues:
- Exploring the big picture, long-term perspective
- Considering immediate action steps necessary to address current challenges.
In short, we came into the planning retreat well prepared.
Other Pre-Retreat Work
In addition to the online surveys and online sessions, we also focused on the status of our prior Strategic Initiatives. Each initiative had a board member coordinator. Leland and I worked with them to assess their progress-to-date using the After Action Review process.
Each Coordinator presented their report at the retreat. This ensured that our planning considered our prior results: what we had NOT accomplished and the reasons why.
Strategic Planning Retreat In Los Angeles
Twenty-seven people participated in our face-to-face planning in Los Angeles. This included the two Member Interest Group chairs, the two members working extensively outside of the USA, three staff members, and Leland, who facilitated the retreat.
Each Board member brought their laptop and we were all logged into the GEO Collaboration System during the meeting, which we used periodically to augment our face-to-face discussions.
While the in-room collaboration process was similar to the one we used in our virtual meetings, we took it one step further to accelerate the processes. We had four table teams working together, each drilling down into one Strategic Initiative.
Our Results from Using A Best Practice for 21st Century Leadership
This was our first experience with technology-enabled planning. The results were impressive.
Throughout the day, a constant stream of ideas and questions emerged from the four table teams. All of them were typed directly into the Collaboration System and thereby captured for later online access. Leland referred to this as downloading the group mind in real time.
If you’ve ever been frustrated by a meeting dominated by just a few voices and had difficulty reaching consensus, you’ll appreciate what we were able to accomplish in one day.
Points of agreement and issues for discussion among the four Strategic Initiative teams were readily apparent. We moved quickly toward consensus. In fact, it was amazing how often the table teams unknowingly built on one another’s ideas.
Our most important outcome of the day was some smart strategies to increase participation and membership in the ILA. This included sharply-focused plans to implement new technology, expand our infrastructure, and develop new strategic partnerships.
It’s worth noting that at the end of the meeting there were zero sheets of flip chart paper for some poor soul to transcribe. Instead, we exported everything from the Collaboration System into Excel, so we could make a quick, easy transition from strategic thinking to implementation.
The ILA Board was seeking a strategic planning consultant to help us shape our retreat agenda and facilitate the retreat. Leland Russell and his yechnology-enabled approach pushed all of us to achieve more than anyone thought was possible. ~ Shelly Wilsey, Director, International Leadership Association
If you would like to learn more about this Best Practice for 21st Century Leadership — Technology-Enabled Planning, let’s connect.
~ Leland Russell | Cultivating 21st Century Leadership
LELAND RUSSELL is founder and CEO of GEO Group Strategic Services, a firm that delivers Best Practices for 21st Century Leadership. Leland helps exceptional leaders shape smart solutions and accelerate superior results with powerful, proven methods.
Leland has built a stellar performance track record with a wide range of Fortune 500 organizations, mid-size firms, and non-profits. His typical clients are CEOs, business leaders, and mission-critical teams.
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