I took a very interesting course in Calgary recently from Federated Press called “Strategic Planning for Boards.” Having gotten into doing more not-for-profit strategy recently, I wanted to get a clearer idea of the differences between planning with business management vs. planning with boards of directors – were there any important differences? Here is a summary of what I took away…
Role of Management in Strategic Planning
Management (the most senior C-level managers) typically carries the bulk of the load when it comes to strategic planning. However, some companies look at strategy as a year-round undertaking, where they have teams of researchers continually conducting competitive research, product line planning, target market analysis, etc. In addition, it can come from bottom up or top down, that is — leads from various segments beginning with their visioning/goals and handing it up, or it can come from the top downward, i.e. “Here’s what we’d like to see your department reach in the next year.” Bottom-up is more thorough and inclusive, but it also takes longer. It seems top-down can also work, as long as there is good communication and input from within.
Role of the Board in Strategic Planning
There were mixed views of what a board of directors should do when it came to strategic planning. Some management prepare the entire strategic plan, and pass it forward to the board for questions and approval only. This is somewhat of a passive role of the board, more of a “rubber stamp” scenario.
Our discussion group generally felt that the rubber stamp scenario was a a real missed opportunity. Consider the people that a company typically has on its board: Former CEO’s of other companies, politicians, extremely successful businesspeople from diverse backgrounds — isn’t it remiss to not get some real input throughout the strategy development process? Why not bring the board in earlier on to help a company “think big”?
Getting Your Board Involved in Strategic Planning
A qualified, solid facilitator is a critical for ensuring a smooth and engaging strategic planning process that includes the board and management together. Information and clear choices must be presented to a board for them to have the best opportunity for discussion. Such information might include:
- Current competitor information
- Current economic information
- The latest research & development status updates
- Cost estimates of decision paths
- Market or customer satisfaction research
- Bringing in experts for a discussion
And of course, any other pertinent data to allow the board to make the best possible recommendations to management. The key is to be very organized, and do not waste your board’s time. Get the board’s input before your overall vision is set. Try to use the board’s time and input to help define the overall long term direction and strategic priorities, and not waste it with “operational” issues.
A good strategic planning facilitator can also ensure that information is presented clearly and discussion is moved through efficiently to maximize engagement.
Corporate Board: Resource vs. Obstacle
While corporate boards sometimes get a reputation as rubber-stamping or veto-power committee that is there to encumber management of a company, they are really expert resources. Studies do show that companies that operate with boards consistently outperform those without them. If you’ve got another dozen or so good brains at the top level of the company, why not use their seasoned expertise?