When our Board used a technology-enabled planning approach, we achieved more than anyone thought possible. ~ Shelly Wilsey, Director, International Leadership Association
Technology-Enabled Planning: A Way to Energize Engagement and Rapidly Build Consensus
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, founder of GEO Group Strategic Services LLC.
Kathryn emphasized that Leland’s unique, technology-enabled planning approach “energizes engagement, rapidly builds consensus and saves time.” That prospect was intriguing, to say the least, and we asked Leland to help us shape our retreat agenda and facilitate our retreat.
At our first design meeting, four weeks before the retreat, Leland proposed that we engage everyone virtually using his GEO Collaboration Center™. Rather than sending a series of emails, we would use his System to drive three 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 we achieved an 80% response rate to three online surveys in three weeks. Equally important, our most technophobic board members easily utilized the system because it was simple to access and navigate.
While not everyone was able to join every online session, the virtual pre-work was a resounding success. All of the board members arrived in Los Angeles already fully engaged in the strategic thinking process. As a result, our face-to-face time was more efficient, effective, and invigorating.
How Our Technology-Enabled Planning 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After reviewing the ILA’s historical documents — SWOT surveys, an eight-year overview of our strategic planning milestones, our first and second five-year strategic plans, and the Strategic Initiative work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 Center™ 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 Collaboration Center™ 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 Center™ 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 the Collaboration Center™: 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 face-to-face planning retreat very well prepared.
Other Pre-Retreat Work: Review of Prior Strategic Initiatives
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 GEO After Action Review process.
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.
At the beginning of the retreat, each Strategic Initiative Coordinator presented their After Action Review. This ensured that our planning was grounded in our prior results — what we had and HAD NOT accomplished — and what we had learned.
Each Board member brought their laptop and we all logged into the Collaboration Center™ 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.
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 the creation of 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 Center™ into Excel, so we could make a quick, easy transition from strategic planning to implementation.
“Using technology-enabled planning turned out to be a great fit with our Board’s desire to link strategic planning and action.” ~ Shelly Wilsey, Director, International Leadership Association
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