How do we succeed with our strategic plan?

Plan for execution in a strategy session.
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Mark Complete

Quarterly Strategy Sessions

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A Harvard Business Review research study of CEO time allotment for a 90-day period clearly showed that people in the organization pay attention to where leaders spend their time and designate importance based on quantity of time spent (June 2018). Where we spend our time and give our attention sends a clear message to those we lead. This suggests the need to scrutinize our schedules for the day, week, month, and year. What message are we sending with the way we spend our time? Stephen Covey (2013) teaches a 4-square look at issues/tasks to help leaders reflect on where their time is spent. This process provides leaders with some data for reflection.

Notice the intersection of Urgent and Important in the four squares. Urgent items are those tasks that require immediate action. Important tasks are required to extend the mission of the organization and strategically advance the performance of the organization based on vision, values, and goals. Strategic planning and thinking fall into the “Important” quadrant. Looking at the examples listed by Covey, “just important” are those things that often get passed by or postponed.

The research tells us that leaders spend less than 10 hours a month on strategy and 9 out 10 leaders fail to execute on their strategic plan. These are not good statistics for organizations that aim to be high performing. Strategic planning is an important function of leadership. The leader of an organization or team is charged with guiding the team in thinking strategically about improvements, changes, or additions to support the continued growth and progress of the team and the organization.


Strategic planning is important for identifying key choices that position the team or organization for higher performance and recognition by competitors. We must plan strategically if we plan to be successful and sustain that success by consistently improving the position of the team or organization. Strategy sessions require review of data, listening to stakeholders, considering current trends and predicted future trends. In these sessions, leaders are willing to think beyond the current situation and consider the impact, positive or negative, of any decision made now.

Strategic planning helps us answer difficult questions:

  • What am I not seeing that is important to see?
  • What else could be the cause?
  • What do we do to achieve excellence and be recognized as a leader in our area of work?

We do not want to be good, we want to be great. In regularly scheduled strategy sessions, we review data to determine where are we in the journey to achieve our big aims. Then, we decide what to do in the short term to achieve the goals. We also continue to review and adjust where we want to be in 5 years and why.


Scheduling the Strategy Session

It is most effective to schedule strategy sessions when data are available. In most cases, this is every 45 days or 90 days. A strategy meeting would not be successful if scheduled before data needed to inform the work are available. We use data that informs progress toward the goal to make a judgement about how well we are executing strategic actions to accomplish the goal.

Reviewing Data

By reviewing full execution of the planned actions for success, we can begin to identify the “why” of the extent to which we are achieving goals. This also encourages discussion of opportunities for improvement and extended goal achievement.

Celebrating Wins

Strategy sessions are ideal times to recognize individual and team wins based on the data. Celebrating success helps maintain the focus for improvement as well as provide others with stories of success. Listening to the “why of success” may provide ideas to others about strategies or processes for improvement.

Breaking Down Silos

Sharing the data or metrics aligned to strategic goals at the session in an open and transparent way, supports a positive work environment and reduces siloed work and achievement. Sharing updates across the division, departments, teams, and team members encourages problem solving throughout the organization and supports collaboration for success. Strategy sessions also provide a forum for open and honest conversation about challenges and resources. The more we involve the entire team in the discussion, the richer the options for improvement. This open discussion helps to build trust needed to achieve greater outcomes.


The strategy session may be an opportunity for more input from team members or it could be a decision-making opportunity. It should be clear during the meeting when, how, and who will make the final decisions. The diagram below outlines one process for making decisions. The leader knows in advance what the decision points are and is comfortable with shared decision-making before determining specific next steps for implementing the decision.

Create Goal Champions

Identify an executive champion for each organizational goal. That leader works with the team to break the goal into smaller chunks and each person takes responsibility for part of the goal. On a weekly basis, talk about actions each person is taking to achieve the goal and celebrate milestones accomplished.

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