Engaging Disengaged Participants in Strategic Planning

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 17, 2023

Engaging Disengaged Participants in Strategic Planning

A client recently asked me, “What do you do when you’re facilitating strategic planning and there are people that aren’t engaged? They don’t believe in the process and think things can just continue the way they’ve been.”  (Good news, she also reassured me, “Btw this isn’t about my team.  I’m asking for a client of mine!” Whew!)

Indeed, facilitating a strategic planning session can be a challenging task, especially when some participants aren’t fully engaged and skeptical about the process. However, with a well-thought-out approach, you can overcome this obstacle and ensure that everyone’s voices are heard and that the planning session is productive.

Get Them Involved Before the Strategic Planning Session

  • Share the Why. Start by addressing the concerns of disengaged participants through clear and persuasive pre-planning communications. Before the strategic planning session, it’s crucial for leadership to share and discuss the benefits and the purpose of the process. Explain why they are embarking on this journey and emphasize the significance of change in the organization. Highlight the positive outcomes that can result from the planning session, such as improved performance, innovation, and growth.
  • Share the How.  Ensure that participants understand how their voices will be included in the process. Emphasize that their input is valued and that the planning session aims to be a collaborative effort. Make it clear that their opinions will contribute to the decision-making process and the future direction of the organization.
  • Address their Concerns.  Acknowledge the skepticism and reservations of disengaged participants. Provide a platform for them to voice their concerns and questions. This not only shows that their opinions matter but also allows for a transparent and open dialogue.
  • Ensure Safe Space. Consider whether past experiences have contributed to participants’ skepticism. If prior opinions were requested but not acted upon, or if there were negative repercussions for sharing dissenting views, participants may be hesitant to engage. Address these concerns and emphasize that this planning session is a safe space for open and constructive dialogue.
  • Encourage Participation. Create some activities in the “pre-planning” that gets them involved. These may include conducting interviews, surveys, and collecting information. By involving them in the preparation stages, you make them feel invested in the process from the beginning.  Assign specific tasks related to logistics and planning to these individuals. This can help them take ownership of specific aspects of the session, thereby increasing their commitment and engagement.

During the Session

  • Have a Facilitator. During the strategic planning session, having a professional facilitator is invaluable. They can ensure that all voices are heard and that the process remains structured and productive. The facilitator’s role is to guide the conversation, manage any dominant voices, and ensure that the quieter participants have the opportunity to contribute.
  • Get Feedback.  To gauge the level of commitment among participants, use polling periodically throughout the session. Ask questions that allow participants to express their commitment to the strategic planning process. Additionally, identify gaps in understanding or agreement. This real-time feedback can help tailor the session to address concerns and doubts.
  • Check In Periodically. Take the time to informally approach each team member individually to see how they are doing and to solicit their feedback. This personal touch can make participants feel valued and provide a more comfortable platform for sharing their thoughts and concerns. Remember that sometimes, participants might not express their disengagement openly, but a one-on-one check-in can uncover valuable insights and help you tailor the facilitation approach to address individual needs effectively. By combining structured feedback with personal interactions, you can create a more inclusive and responsive planning environment.

Follow Up

  • Create an Action Plan.  It’s not enough to conduct a strategic planning session; you must follow through with a concrete action plan. Disengaged participants may become more engaged when they see tangible results and positive changes. Ensure that the outputs of the session are transformed into actionable steps. (I like to show a blank one-page plan at the beginning of the session to show them exactly what the output of the session will be.)
  • Ask for Help.  Ask for and/or assign responsibilities to individuals or teams and establish accountability mechanisms to ensure that the plan is executed effectively. Tracking progress and celebrating milestones can further engage participants in the process.

Facilitating a strategic planning session with disengaged participants requires a thoughtful and comprehensive approach. By addressing concerns, involving participants in the process, and ensuring that the session leads to concrete actions, you can overcome skepticism and create a more productive and inclusive planning experience. Moreover, by nurturing a safe and open environment, you can encourage all participants to contribute their valuable insights, moving your organization towards a successful strategic future.

Related Articles:

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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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