November 5, 2012 – By nature, planning takes on a top-down approach, as the senior-most executives gather together to discuss the future direction of the organization. While decisions are generally grounded in well-constructed data, the collective perspective of these senior leaders carries tremendous weight. As organizations try to define for their companies what is strategic planning, one tool that can generate deep insight is Executive Interviewing.

The danger in a top-down design to the strategic planning process is that many senior leaders have similar perspectives. The reason they have risen to such positions in your organization is that they share common styles, ideas, and beliefs. They work together, collaborate on a variety of initiatives, and may even socialize beyond the normal workday. Executive Interviewing balances the planning bias inherently present in your executive management team.

How Executive Interviewing Works

Even though you may have upwards of a dozen senior executives in your organization, the question remains, are they able to see the entire horizon line? Executive Interviewing expands the peripheral vision of the organization by engaging front-line staff, middle managers, board members, and other stakeholders in the planning process. This additional insight often uncovers information that wouldn’t have been identified otherwise, enhancing strategic business planning.

Very simply, Executive Interviewing provides a methodology for members of you strategic planning team to interview several stakeholders using a structured interview guide. They record the verbatim responses of those interviewed for future analysis. The purpose of Executive Interviewing is to identify trends in perceptions of various stakeholder groups that could benefit the process of strategic planning.Strategic Planning Building a Plan executive interviewing Executive Interviewing Strategic Planning Building a Plan

To start, determine what questions you want your planning team to ask. The recommended number of questions is four to six. Questions should be broad enough that all stakeholder groups are able to answer them,  but not so broad that the answers provide no real value to your company. Here are sample questions that are included in the Executive Interviewing guide included in ExecuteIt, AchieveIt’s revolutionary cloud-based business execution software:

  • If you were in charge of this organization, what two things would you change immediately that would improve overall effectiveness, and why would you change those things?
  • What opportunities exist for this organization that you think we should take advantage of, but haven’t?
  • What is happening in the marketplace that makes you nervous? What are you afraid of regarding our competitiveness?

Once you have developed your Executive Interviewing guide, determine who on the planning team will conduct interviews. Ideally, everyone on the team should participate. Depending on the size of your team and the size of your organization, it may not be feasible to engage every member on your team. Next, determine the number of stakeholders each participant will interview. A good number is three, but it also depends on the size of your team. Assign a stakeholder group to each of the participating members. For instance, one team member will interview middle managers, and a second will interview three front-line staff members.

Instruct your team to conduct interviews individually, not in a group. This prevents a “pack mentality” from developing and ensures that each stakeholder’s voice is heard. Once interviews are completed, Executive Interviewing responses should be recorded verbatim. Do not alter the original Executive Interviewing responses in any way. The power of Executive Interviewing is in the raw responses, not responses altered by the perceptions of those conducting interviews.

What to do With Your Executive Interviewing Responses

If 15 executives interview three stakeholders using a six-question interview guide, you will have 270 verbatim responses. Classifying these responses by the question asked is the first step to uncovering strategic business intelligence within the mass of stakeholder thinking. Once you have organized the responses by category, look for commonality between responses. Sometimes it is helpful to create an affinity diagram to help identify themes among the respondents.

An affinity diagram is an effective technique to handle a large number of ideas. It is typically used when:

  1. Large data set is to be traversed, like ideas generated from brainstorming and sieve for prioritization.
  2. Complexity due to diverse views and opinions.
  3. Group involvement and consensus.

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Maria Frantz
Maria Frantz
Maria Frantz is AchieveIt’s VP of Operations, a proud Georgia Tech Grad, and a Master of Statistics. When she’s not building strategic plans you can find Maria painting and haphazardly attempting to learn how to play the violin, guitar, and trumpet.