It can be a good idea for a business owner to get away with his key people and do some higher-level thinking about the enterprise. Sometimes these meetings are called a “retreat”. I don’t particularly like that term, but you get the idea. These types of sessions are often conducted over a day or two. Because it involves planning beforehand, the cost of facilities and accommodation and the fact that the key people in the business are away from the coalface for a couple of days, means that the process can be quite costly. So, if you are going to conduct a meeting of this type, how do you ensure that you get the best benefits out of this process?
It is critical that you have a clear understanding of the outcomes that you want. If you don’t have this it is extremely likely that your strategic meeting will get bogged down in irrelevant issues or focus too much on one issue to the exclusion of other important issues. The other outcome, if you don’t have clear goals in mind, is that the meeting can turn into a nice social interaction between your people. Having a nice social interaction is okay but if you wanted good strategic actions to come out of the process, this will not achieve your goal.
Get specific with this. What do you really want from the process? For example, you might decide that what you want is to determine the most important five actions that you and your management team will take over the next six months. Or, you may be focusing on a significant project and your key goal may be to come away with a Gantt chart of when things are going to occur and which tasks are dependent on another. Or, your goal might be to have a well constructed cash flow budget for the next six months. Whatever it is, be very clear with yourself and your people as to what you are striving for.
Keep the meeting on track. This is one of the big problems of having a talkfest. People like to talk and air their views. This is good, but there has to be a point where those views are distilled into the goals that you have set for the meeting. Far too many meetings are derailed due to spending excessive time on particular points that are out of proportion to their importance. If you are not the best at leading a meeting and keeping it on track, you would be well advised to have a person who is experienced in facilitating such meetings help you through the process. Let them chair the meeting. Their purpose is not necessarily to make suggestions or make any input into your discussions, but simply to dispassionately keep their eye on the goals that you have set and keep everybody on track so that the meeting does achieve the outcome that you want. Of course, you will have to pay for the services of this person, but it can be money well spent.
Prepare for the meeting well. If you are going to have discussions about topics that have some complexity, it is strongly advisable to do some research on this beforehand and produce a paper or prepare a presentation for the meeting. Lack of accurate information is another significant source of strategic conferences going off track. Without proper research and data people speculate about the facts or give opinions that are based on “gut feel” rather than solid information. This can then result in significant debate over issues that are seen as facts and are not. This is a complete waste of time because later on (after the meeting) the real facts will probably become known and any decisions that you have made based on the uninformed discussions that you have had could be useless.
Decide to do something. Progress is made when decisions are made that cause specific people to take specific actions by a specific time. Until you get to this point, your think tank will not have achieved much. It is the actions that people take following your time together that will eventually determine whether that time was successful.
Wishing you easier business.