Less than 1% of all businesses in the U.S. ever exceed $5 million in sales and have more than 50 employees. If your company is one of those few, give yourself a pat on the back and accept my congratulations for achieving that milestone.

As your company has grown and become more complex, your role as leader has evolved. You have built a leadership team made up of people you have selected to help you run the company. Everyone needs to work together to help you achieve your vision. The only way for you to achieve your vision is to develop a great strategic plan and execute it.

Planning for the future of your business and executing the plan should have evolved as well. As a growing business, you now have a more formal annual planning and quarterly review process. In the past, you probably planned and facilitated these kinds of meetings on your own because you were still involved in every phase of the business and truly couldn’t afford a professional strategic planning facilitator. If you are still doing that, it is time to think again.

CEOs should never facilitate strategic planning meetings!

You have much more important duties to focus on. The single most important role for a CEO in a leadership team meeting is mining for conflict:

  • Whose body language tells you that leader had something to say but is holding back?
  • Who are the good listeners and who are focused on responding?
  • What is the “elephant in the room,” the big issue that is on everyone’s mind, but no one wants to bring it up, discuss and resolve?

It is virtually impossible for a CEO or any leader for that matter to both facilitate a meeting and mine for conflict and the above behaviors. And of the two roles, mining for conflict is far more critical than facilitating. CEOs must be active participants in leadership meetings and find other ways to have leadership team meetings facilitated.

Planning the meeting

As the person who runs the company, you should be involved in helping to identify the thought and pre-work needed to have a great meeting. You should review and approve the agenda. A strategic planning advisor can work with you to understand what your company needs to accomplish. Working with your leadership team members, a good advisor makes sure the pre-work is done, issues are identified, relevant topics are included, and everything is ready for that advisor to function as facilitator, supporting your agenda and vision.

Trying to do this yourself in addition to your day job (or having an admin do it) practically guarantees it won’t be done well. Without quality pre-work, your meeting will not be as productive as it should be.

Running the meeting

In meetings like these, two people have great power: the facilitator and the CEO. As I stated above, I have yet to meet a CEO of a company as large as yours who can do both well at the same time. After facilitating a session like this for a company for the first time, comments invariably sound something like “I can’t believe how much we accomplished,” “this is the best plan we’ve ever developed” and “we stayed on topic, got through the agenda, and know what we have to achieve next year.”

In addition to the above, as the CEO your job is to

  • listen intently to what everyone is saying,
  • learn from people who are doing the work,
  • generate and build on ideas,
  • contribute to the conversation (not dominate it),
  • make the hard decisions after a full hearing from the leadership team.

Let the facilitator

  • lead the meeting to a great outcome,
  • use great people skills to make sure everyone is heard,
  • keep the meeting on track,
  • bring issues to the surface,
  • manage constructive debate,
  • use business experience and acumen to drive the team to a great plan.

Executing the plan

The biggest mistake growing companies make is that they don’t have a system in place to execute their strategic plan. It oftentimes ends up collecting dust on the shelf.

Your strategic planning advisor/facilitator should teach you the framework you and your team need to stay on track. They should help you learn to successfully implement the plan. Quarterly review and planning sessions are a forum to course correct and grow your team’s leadership skills so everyone can keep up as the company grows.

In a nutshell, if you have been unhappy with what you have produced in your annual and quarterly planning sessions, bring in an advisor who has the knowledge, background, and expertise to help you and your team create a successful strategic plan and develop an execution framework your team can implement.

Jerry Folz

Certified EM Advisor

Jerry Folz understands that the small to medium business owner wants to grow their company profitably. As a Certified EM Advisor, Vistage Chair, and Executive Coach, he has the tools and personality to help you achieve success as an owner and as a person. Six of his current clients made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies.

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