Strategic Planning Session Templates – Part 1 of 3

This week we will focus on an upcoming event for many of you; the annual strategic planning retreat! So often this meeting becomes the main event for revisiting past strategies as well as planning for the future. During this three-part series, you will receive some best practices and examples on prep-work, retreat session agenda items and post-work to create a strategic plan that will propel your organization forward.


There are many great articles about the logistics of planning the retreat itself, be sure to choose an environment that will be well suited for brainstorming and collaboration. Inc. magazine points out that you want to make sure you have a clear goal for your meeting and choose the right facilitator. Whether it’s one of our consultants from Achieveit or another firm that conducts your strategic planning retreat, it’s important to make sure you clearly outline the deliverables you have for the retreat with your facilitator ahead of time.
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The core elements of your final strategic plan comes from your 1) Mission 2) Vision, 3) Values 4) SWOT Analysis, 5) Capabilities Gap 6) Goals, 7) Objectives, 8) Strategies, 9) Action plans, and 10) Methods of Evaluation.

Pre-retreat Research:

Prior to the retreat, gather feedback from a wide spread audience about your Mission, Vision and Values. It’s important annually to review this information and reconfirm “Why Do We Exist?” (Mission Statement) and “Where Are We Going?” (Vision Statement). It gives the organization purpose and meaning and speaks to why people want to work for your company.

One way to gather this information efficiently and effectively is through a cloud-based platform which allows your team members to weigh in on the current mission and vision statement. Here are some screenshots from our Achieveit software:

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You can gather feedback about your mission or vision statement from your senior team or other team members. You can also choose to collect this feedback anonymously. Prior to the retreat, take a look at the commentary regarding your mission statement. Group the feedback into similar themes and present those themes as topics of discussion during the mission and vision portion of the retreat. These discussions may lead to a revamped statement or you may just confirm the statements you have already.

Typically, you will not try to word smith specifically at the retreat but you want to ensure that you have covered all the elements that are critical to your mission and vision statement with the right stakeholders.

Values are another way to ensure that moving into the new planning cycle your team members reaffirm their role in preserving the mission and vision. These values should be embraced when interacting with other team members as well as interacting with people outside of the organization.

Here is a view of how you can use multi-voting to gather intelligence prior to the retreat on the values of the organization:

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Next, market research and data analysis around Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT Analysis) and Capabilities Gap are critical in identify the forces that could keep you from fully executing your new strategic plan.

SWOT Analysis: Internal Strengths and Weaknesses

When answering the question, what is a SWOT analysis, you have to begin with Strengths, which describes the positive attributes – tangible and intangible – internal to your organization. They are within your control. What do you do well? What resources do you have? What advantages do you have over your competition? These are important questions to ask during your SWOT analysis. You may want to evaluate your strengths by area, such as marketing, finance, manufacturing, and organizational structure. The Strengths quadrant of the SWOT captures the positive aspects internal to your business that add value or offer you a competitive advantage. This is your opportunity to remind yourself of the value existing within your business.

Note the weaknesses within your business when answering the question, what is a SWOT analysis. Weaknesses are factors that are within your control that detract from your ability to obtain or maintain a competitive edge. Which areas might you improve? SWOT Weaknesses might include lack of expertise, limited resources, lack of access to skills or technology, inferior service offerings, or the poor location of your business. These are areas you need to enhance in order to compete with your best competitor. The more accurately you identify your weaknesses, the more valuable the SWOT will be for your assessment.

SWOT Analysis: External Opportunities and Threats

Opportunities focus on the external attractive factors that represent the reason for your business to exist and prosper and are an important part of the answer to what is a SWOT analysis. These are external to your business. What opportunities exist in your market, or in the environment, from which you hope to benefit? These SWOT Opportunities reflect the potential you can realize through implementing your strategies. Opportunities may be the result of market growth, lifestyle changes, resolution of problems associated with current situations, positive market perceptions about your business, or the ability to offer greater value that will create a demand for your services. If you have identified SWOT “opportunities” that are internal to the organization and within your control, you will want to move them to the Strengths quadrant of your SWOT.

Finally, when answering the question what is a SWOT analysis, you have to address Threats. What factors are potential threats to your business? SWOT Threats include factors beyond your control that could place your strategy, or the business itself, at risk. These are also external – you have no control over them, but you may benefit by having contingency plans to address them if they should occur. A threat is a challenge created by an unfavorable trend or development that may lead to deteriorating revenues or profits. Competition – existing or potential – is always a threat. The better you are at identifying potential threats, the more likely you can position yourself to proactively plan for and respond to them. You will be looking back at these threats when you consider your contingency plans.
Use a simple way to gather the feedback about these categories prior to the meeting and again group this information into common themes to discuss at the meeting. Here is a screenshot within the Achieveit software of how you could collect that data:

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Gather your stakeholders and complete the Capabilities Gap. In order for strategic planning to be effective, the organization needs a strong foundation on which to build goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. The Capabilities Gap allows the organization to assess its foundation to determine if there are any cracks that need to be repaired. You must evaluate the traits of a successful organization in your industry and allow users to rank their importance and development. You can then begin to identify at the retreat the critical initiatives that need to take place in order to further propel the organization forward.

Here is an example of what Capabilities Gap results can yield:

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At this point, you have completed your prep work prior the retreat and have great topics to cover while together as a group. This data collection will avoid the dreaded moments of sitting at the white board with blank canvases starting from scratch. This will save time and lead to more robust dialogue at the retreat itself. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will outline to agenda and to-do items to accomplish at the retreat.

What have been other techniques or data collected prior to your strategic planning retreats?

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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.