How to Hold Mindful Conversations – Part 2

In our last post, we discussed three ways to structure conversations, even everyday ad hoc conversations, to achieve your objectives. Every conversation is an opportunity to build relationships, to coordinate activities, to plan for the future, to sell your ideas, to get ideas, or to recap the past.

Today, we add another structured conversation, with a specific focus strategic planning

ToP Strategic Planning Process

The Top Strategic Planning Process is closely related to the ORID process, described in the last post. Don’t let the words Strategic Planning throw you off track. You can use this process for reaching agreement on nearly any topic you can imagine.

The first step is to look at the background of the situation. How would you describe the organization? Why are we planning now? What is the history? What has gone right in the recent past? What has not done well in the recent past? What are the trends? Barbara Minto would call this the situation.

This substitutes for the common SWOT analysis. Personally, I have found only one or two individuals who understood SWOT analysis, and they disagreed.

In the next step, you use this information set the focus question. This is the how or what question you want the group to answer. Here is where you also set the relational objective and the experiential objective.

These two steps are usually performed by a small leadership group, prior to the main group meeting. The results sent to all participants as pre-reading, but are not subject to discussion by the main group. Quite often, the pre-reading will include the top-level vision and mission.

Then you gather the participants and brainstorm the Practical Vision. This exercise explores the question:

What do we want to see in place in 3-5 years?

This exercise focuses on objective criteria for success; things we will see, hear, smell, taste, touch that show us that we will have reached our vision (or have made significant progress.)

The actual brainstorming process involves having each participant independently generate a number of ideas. Then subgroups(say, those at one table) review each idea. Each subgroup sends their “best” ideas to the entire group. Then the entire group forms the ideas into affinity clusters, by intended accomplishments and then names the clusters. This process will be repeated in later steps.

The next step looks at Underlying Contradictions; the blocks, barriers, and hindrances to achieving our practical vision.

The workshop question here is:

What is blocking us from moving toward our vision?

Use the same process as the step above to brainstorm, collect, and name categories. The facilitator states that the ideas cannot use the words “lack of”. The participants just say what is there (e.g. say “funding” instead of “lack of funding”.) Those generating the ideas are to go a couple back in the cause-effect chain to think about the root causes.

The group then moves to Strategy Development, using the same brainstorming, collecting, and naming process. This time you are looking for:

What innovative, substantial actions will deal with the blocks, and move us toward our vision?

The ideas should be innovative, meaning new; substantial, meaning has an impact; and actions, meaning things you can assign, perform, and track. You then group them by strategic intent. The group labels are usually stated as a participle using words ending in -ing.

The group then moves to implementation planning, where you address:

What will our specific measurable accomplishments be for the first year?

Then we prioritize the accomplishments, put them on a timeline, and assign responsibilities.

This step is not the last one, however. Now, you should assign responsibility to track and ensure completion of the actions.

I plan a part 3 for the near future.