Organizational Health: The Top 10 Factors To Track

For years, the primary metrics for whether or not any business was healthy were financial ones. To a large extent, this hasn’t changed in the eyes of executives and senior leaders — although it’s beginning to, and fast.

In Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, this visual breakdown of current senior leadership worries looked like this:

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report

Some of the largest concerns were around structure, leadership gaps, culture, and engagement. All of these areas are subsets of organizational health.

Sometimes it’s easier to see that pattern when you think of it this way: you go to a doctor every year, right? (Or at least you hopefully do.) You see your dentist every 6-12 months probably too. The same level of maintenance and tracking needs to be applied to your business. You absolutely need to be evaluating your organizational health every year.

If you don’t, the problems that exist in Year 1 will only get significantly worse by Year 5 if left unaddressed. Those problems, whatever they may be, will likely cost you resources, especially good people. One of the truest maxims in business is that good people want to work in healthy organizations with other good people; they’re usually the first to abandon a sinking ship.

Jon Wolske, the culture evangelist at Zappos, appeared on Hubspot’s podcast once and had a great quote. “Your financial metrics can be great,” he said, “but if dragons are all over your organization, eventually the village will burn.”

So now that you know you need to be evaluating the health of your organization every year, you’re probably thinking “sure, but how?”. Good news, we’ve created the perfect tool for you to use!

TeamWorks: Organizational Health Checklist

The Organizational Health Checklist

We’ve worked with hundreds of leaders over decades, and in so doing, we’ve put together a 10-point organizational health checklist.

Follow these 6 simple steps to determine the health of your organization:

  • Download the Health Checklist
  • In each category, follow the scoring rubric assigned
  • Be as honest as possible
  • You will find yourself in one of three buckets — low (<25), middle (26-74), or high (75+)
  • Once you’ve determined which bucket you’re in, we’ve given you questions below that can guide the next step of your thinking
  • If you have questions about your specific business model, market, plan, or approach, reach out to us. We’d love to help!

Caveat: no one gets amazing scores in all 10 categories. Even the best places to work — think Google, which has been on all those types of lists for over a decade — have flaws and don’t align in all areas. Running an organization of any size is hard. Our goal is to help you make it easier.


We do need to begin with a financial metric, of course. To extend that doctor analogy above, a lack of profitability is akin to a person bleeding. After a while, the chances for survival decrease pretty rapidly. There are businesses that capture attention because of growth and don’t really make a profit — Amazon is the most notable example — but in general, profitability is crucial. To rank yourself in this area, you need to know a few things. First of all, what’s your current profit? Is it increasing or decreasing relative to the year before or the quarters before?

To really understand where you lie in terms of profitability, you also need an understanding of the benchmark data in your industry. Industries can vary widely in terms of how much profit the top companies are capturing. You need to know the ranges in your specific industry.

Revenue Growth

Many organizations track this via CAGR, or compound annual growth rate — although there are other metrics and approaches. Revenue growth is another long-held financial metric that showcases both your stability and future potential. Again, like profitability, it’s important that you do this against your market or industry — so having that context and ability to benchmark is important.

If your revenue growth rate is 7%, that might seem excellent to you on surface. If you find out your competitors are 3%, you’d be ecstatic. But if your competitors are 27%? You’d be defeated. It’s all about context, because financial metrics can’t be analyzed in a vacuum.

Customer Satisfaction

Now we get into the sections where many senior leaders have a tendency to get confused. Take a deep breath before this next sentence. Customer satisfaction and experience metrics are actually more important than profits and revenue growth. (Keep breathing.) One easy explanation for that? Famed management consultant Peter Drucker once explained it perfectly: profits are never the goal of an organization. Profits are what happens when you serve the customer properly.

Most organizations do customer satisfaction metrics through surveys, which is fine and often very reliable. However, the crucial aspect of customer satisfaction survey work is that it needs to be done through an independent third party. If you do it internally, a ton of bias is going to creep in and your numbers might not be real. We’ve seen this at companies for years.

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, regardless of what you sell or to whom. You need to always be aware of how your customers are perceiving what you do; that’s a crucial component of organizational health.


This one is hard. Most organizations operate according to “what’s measured is what matters,” and culture is admittedly hard to measure. Many senior leaders think ‘culture’ is the same thing as your core values/mission statement list, but that misses the point. A “culture” is how your organization works together every day. Do people like being at work? Are managers respectful? Is it a place only focused on hitting goals, or are there aspects of fun and personal development along the way? All these things matter, but they are hard to measure.

Here’s the secondary bias tier that many people forget: at the most senior levels of an organization, you tend to be furthest from the customers — but closest to the perks and benefits (higher salary, client dinners, etc.) You also are working with people who (typically) have years of experience in the same field you do, and oftentimes you’ve been colleagues for years too. From a loftier perch, how you perceive the culture may be very different than the day-to-day non-managerial employees. Oftentimes leaders will say “We have a great culture,” but they don’t know what it’s like down the ranks.

“Culture” is often about talking to people and seeing where things stand and where they can get better. It’s less about tracking five elements on a spreadsheet.

Strategic Plan: Why, What, and How

The “why” is your philosophy, mantra, or organizational purpose. This is where the emotional charge and passion of your people ultimately must come from.

The “what” is your strategies and goals. These are the steps you take to achieve the “why.” Many companies are not very good at aligning the “why” and the “what” — even some super high-growth companies.

The “how” is the road map.

You must begin with the “why,” then move to “what.” Once you know the strategies and goals to get you towards your purpose, you can enact the “how,” or the road map. It’s a very clear flow, although it gets muddied in many organizations.

Just like with customer satisfaction work above, it’s good to have a third party work with you on strategic planning. It reduces potential internal bias, brings in new perspectives, and helps creativity.

Team Architecture

This is an important component of organizational health, but often overlooked by those with the most responsibility.

Consider this: even though we discuss the rise of entrepreneurship often, more people globally are working in large, bureaucratic organizations than ever before. Bain and Company has done research that 94% of growth challenges for a business are now internal, which is a huge departure from even the 1990s — when most challenges were external (technology, supply chain, etc.)

One of the reasons that internal challenges have become so prevalent is messy team architecture. Per that same Bain research, companies that get to $5 billion valuations typically have 9-14 layers between the customer and the top decision-makers. That’s a lot of potential bureaucracy.

At the same time, clear job role — knowing how your “what” and “how” align with the company’s “why” — is one of the single-biggest predictors of happiness and productivity at work.

You need to get team architecture right. It will vary by the type of org you want and the industry you’re in, but it needs to be a focal point.


Innovation is a critical factor for future success. Now, it’s important to remember that your entire team won’t be innovative. You will see articles sometimes that claim you need an entire team of Steve Jobs-type individuals. That’s not possible. But you should still track how many innovations your company has had in the past 6-12 months, and you should regularly conduct organic discussions with different levels of employees about how open managers are to new ideas.

Oftentimes, managers are not the best judges of new ideas — and as a result, they can swat down potentially-great ones. Reversing that type of culture is crucial to innovation, which is why it must be evaluated in the context of organizational health.


When you do acquisitions right on a regular basis, it allows your company to enter new markets, consolidate existing ones, add new offers, obtain new talent, and explore different cultural offerings. In short, it helps the DNA of your organization to get a regular refresh. It also allows the company to grow faster than it would organically. Acquisitions have been all the rage in the tech space for years, for example — within a few weeks of writing this, Microsoft purchased LinkedIn and Verizon purchased Yahoo.

You need to evaluate two things when it comes to acquisitions: (a) how many you’ve had in the past year and (b) how good your process for investigating and deciding on potential acquisitions is. (B) might be more important than (A), because if your process for investigating an acquisition is flawed, the number of acquisitions doesn’t matter as much — many will likely be flawed.


Teams form because they need one another. If you could do it alone, then you would. However, people can’t do it all alone. To get people to go above and beyond, then a reward system that shares the wealth optimizes performance and results.

How great is your reward system? Do you have powerful positive incentives for your leaders, your team and your allies? How much better would your results be if incentives and results were aligned?

There is one crucial caveat to thinking about your rewards structure: oftentimes, organizations focus on rewards for the top people only. This is logical in the sense that they have the most responsibility, but illogical in the sense that their compensation and bonus packages are already strong relative to other employees.

A reward/recognition culture is about finding a way to bring everyone along, not just the senior leaders. For a good book with tons of resources on why and how to design a culture this way, check out The Carrot Principle. (There are dozens of others too.)

Purpose And Passion

his is ** the ** big one, but again … it can be hard to measure and, as a result, many organizations gloss it over.

Really be serious about this. Are you doing what you are here on planet Earth to do? Life is short, and if you’re not in alignment with your purpose, then it’s time to find another game to play that is. Research shows that you’ll be more successful, happier, prosperous and even healthier if you do!

“Purpose” in a work context is a hard topic, because some believe the goal of an organization isn’t to provide purpose to employees. (Legally, that’s true.) But if you want a productive, goal-oriented business that grows and makes you money, purpose is the cornerstone of all that. Without employees feeling purpose and connection between strategy and day-to-day work, there will be lots of manifested problems, turnover, and lost revenue opportunities. Everything begins with purpose and passion for the ‘game’ your company is playing, whether that’s widgets, hospital equipment, steak knives, or an app.

How Healthy is Your Organization?

Based on recent research from Bain and Company, 94% of business development challenges that companies face are now internal. That’s a huge shift from even 15-20 years ago, when most business development challenges were external — i.e. needing new technology, supply chain, etc.

What are these internal challenges representing 94% of the business development roadblocks? Most are among the issues discussed above: culture, senior leadership buy-in, communication, filtering of information, and the like. In short: if you have poor organizational health, you likely have limited opportunities for business development. You should assess that ASAP. And now, you can start right here!

TeamWorks: Organizational Health Checklist

How To Create Better Strategic Plans by Getting Away From The Office

Spring and early summer are often ideal times for teams to engage in an offsite retreat: the days are longer, and people tend to feel optimistic around better weather and the end of winter’s fog (relative to where you live, of course).

As with anything in business, though, planning an offsite that actually moves the business forward and sparks renewal in your organization is going to require addressing a couple of key questions. In this case, it’s the standard questions of any process: Why, Where, What, How, and Who – with a slight twist.

Let’s tackle these one-by-one.

How To Create Better Strategic Plans By Getting Offsite

Why you need to get away to get results

Offsite meetings cost money to coordinate and execute, and some leaders and decision-makers don’t see the value in spending that money because they aren’t convinced of the eventual results.

If you’re equivocating on the idea of an offsite, here are some things to consider.

You know, if you want to get better at anything – be it yoga, or golf, or even your relationship with a loved one – creating space away from your day-to-day distractions to focus on your goals is by far the most effective way to get results.

During the workday, we all tend to operate pretty independently. Even though many organizations talk about teamwork and collaboration, the reality is that when dealing with deadlines, projects, customers, and short-term goals – we’re mostly working solo.

An offsite is a great way to build up that collective spirit and connection between the disparate parts of your organization. Establishing those bonds and connectivity will help drive your business forward in the long run.

Choosing the perfect location for your offsite strategic planning retreat

Determining the best place to hold your offsite meeting will obviously vary based on where your organization is located — someone in Kansas may not be able to coordinate an offsite to Tahiti, for example — but my two general rules are always:

  • Leave the Building (get away from the home base, even if just 45 minutes)
  • Make it a treat (add lots of break time and social activities)

So many planning teams miss the second rule entirely. They plan a retreat at a beautiful resort with world-class scenery and activities and then they create an agenda that forces everyone to stay indoors and work like dogs.

Inevitably, the team returns home and when their non-work friends ask about the trip and say “Oh, that’s such a great resort!” the employee has to respond, “I didn’t see much of it…all we did was work.” This kind of experience can engender disappointment and resentment, which is the opposite of what we are looking for here. The goal of the offsite is connectivity and bonding. Make it a treat!

We often use the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ rules when selecting the location for an offsite retreat:

  • Not too far, not too close. Just right.
  • Not too pricey, not too cheap. Just right.
  • Not too casual, not too formal. Just right.

If you can hit these three ‘just right’ targets, you’ve probably chosen a great location for your retreat.

What to include in the agenda for your retreat

We could write an entire post on the “what” of an offsite retreat. This really is where the rubber meets the road. Today, we’ll focus on understanding the two basic tiers of activities; the work stuff and the fun stuff.

The Work Stuff
One of the most important missions of an offsite retreat is of course, to get actual work done. To discuss and plan what your organization needs to do to achieve its goals over the coming months and years. When thinking about the “work stuff” you need to incorporate into your retreat agenda, make sure that you’ve included these three must-have strategic elements:

  • WHY – Your Purpose and value activities
  • WHAT – Strategy alignment & Goal-setting
  • HOW – Action plan (how you’ll know you’re moving towards the goals)

The role of the facilitator or leader of the offsite is to model the ideal behavior — what is expected of everyone — and he/she must listen, and listen well. If an offsite seems like an exercise in leadership dominance, others will tune out and the entire endeavor will be ineffective. Organizational leaders are often powerful, dominant individuals who occasionally are not prone to listening.

If you’re not confident that the leaders of your organization can provide powerful leadership while creating an open environment for sharing and collaboration, consider hiring a third-party facilitator who can artfully lead you through these activities.

Need help developing your Strategic Plan? Check out our Ultimate Strategic Plan Template. 

The Fun Stuff
This is where you get to be creative! When consider the fun stuff you can work into your agenda, remember that you’re crafting playtime for adults. Look to make time for non-threatening indoor and outdoor activities, and give people options.

You’ll want to allow quiet, reflective time, while also planning opportunities for shared meals and drinks. Remember, this is about getting away from tasks and deliverables and ‘breaking bread’ together: exploring ideas, stories, and getting to know co-workers better.

The Spiritual Stuff
I’m tucking this third piece in here because I think it’s vitally important and something that most organizations aren’t addressing. The spiritual stuff refers to providing alone time for self-reflection, but it also refers to guiding discussions around bigger questions like “Why does our organization exist?”

Creating space where your people have the chance to connect at a deeper level with themselves and their co-workers can be hard to do when you’re only focused on drawing up action plans. Don’t overlook the power these deeper conversations can have in bringing your team together and inspiring them to develop innovative new ideas and strategies for your business.

The perfect length of time for the ultimate strategic planning retreat

The ideal length of your offsite retreat will vary by how much you can spend, but I consider two full days and one full evening to be the absolute bare minimum. Ideally you should aim for 2 days and 2 evenings and if you have the resources consider spending up to a week. It’s a longer time to be away from family and friends, yes, but it creates a greater chance of everything getting done and experiencing real transformation as a group.

You want to come back from an offsite with a strategy and action plan (good for operational side of the business), but also with more connected team members (good for the functional side of getting things done and not grousing or skating on projects). That’s a tall order when you only have two days together.

Who should attend your offsite retreat?

The people you invite to attend your retreat can make or break its success. While its important to have key decision makers and senior leadership representation, its also important to consider the mix of personalities, styles and strong-suits of the individuals involved. Having a synergy of big picture creative thinkers, and practical analytical thinkers will help you develop great ideas and realistic action plans.

Here are the various groups we like to include when planning a retreat:

  • Senior leadership team
  • Up-and-comers or “high potentials”
  • Anyone with ownership of a key business initiative or service/product line
  • Your trusted strategic facilitator

If you haven’t used an outside facilitator in the past, let me just say this; it can be difficult to have an offsite coordinated or lead by someone internal to the organization. By definition, that person is baked into the politics and relationships already in place — and their actions as the leader might reflect that. An outside or third-party facilitator is neutral. Even though they are getting compensated, he/she isn’t tied to the politics, pre-existing relationships, or power core of the organization. His/her only goal is effective facilitation towards business and personal growth. That’s a powerful advocate to have.

If you’re committed to creating a strategic plan that isn’t just a repeat of what you’ve always done, then it’s time to pack up and hit the road! Plan an offsite strategic retreat for your leadership teams that allows them to; break out of their everyday routines, develop deeper levels of trust and collaboration, all while having a little fun. The results might just amaze you.

Need help developing your Strategic Plan? Check out our Ultimate Strategic Plan Template. 

image credits: Designed by Freepik

5 Signs You Need to Invest in Strategic Planning

Every organization, of every size, needs to invest in strategic planning at some point — and often more than they think they do. But how do you know when it’s the right time? There are typically five signs.

5 Signs You Need to Invest in Strategic Planning

Who’s On First?

Have you seen the famous Abbott and Costello skit? Its an oldie – but a goodie! If its been a while, have a watch.

It’s long, but it remains pretty hysterical throughout — and the reason is that it’s relatable. The entire skit is based on miscommunication, confusion, and lack of context. We all experience this all the time in our daily lives — and too often in our work lives.

Here’s what a ‘Who’s on first?’ Mentality looks like within organizations:

  • No one is sure who’s where
  • There’s a lack of clarity about who’s working on what
  • People don’t understand their own targets
  • As a result, they have little to no clue about the broader organizational target
  • Confusion abounds

If you see this happening — it’s often reflected in how people approach and then have discussions in meetings — it’s time for strategic planning.

Second by Second

This refers to the trade-off between ‘strategy’ (the big picture that ideally we’re focusing on) and ‘execution’ (hour-by-hour tasks). I’ve gone into so many organizations where, because of the prevalence of e-mail as a primary communication tool, the business is being run solely based on what’s popping up on people’s screens. I’ve had clients call this “the business of doing business,” and while that’s certainly true, that doesn’t make it a good thing.

The goal of a leader is to set an agenda around the big picture and make sure team members aren’t rushing to respond to the next ping of their inbox.

If you think your organizational culture has become way too focused on tasks and is losing sight of the big picture, it’s time for strategic planning.

Three’s a crowd

Tell me if you’ve been in this situation before: two people are talking and a third person walks by. The third person (you?) tries to stop and talk to the other two. They immediately clam up and awkwardly shift to a more generic topic. The immediate assumption is that the first two people were being secretive about something or another, or worse, they were talking about you!

Office Gossip - (Peter Arkle)
(Peter Arkle)

This is a gossip-driven culture. While gossip is probably unavoidable at work to some extent, a prevalence of gossip typically indicates a culture that lacks trust and efficacy.

You might be thinking; how do you ‘solve’ a problem like gossip with strategic planning? On the surface, you probably can’t. However, strategic planning involves bringing together different levels of the organization and openly discussing what’s going on, where the future lies, and more.

If gossip is a problem in your organization, a team strategic planning session is a great time to address the state of your corporate culture and enroll the team in creating a united solution. This enables trust between departments, people, and levels; reducing the ‘three’s a crowd’ mentality.

Four score and seven years ago…

When’s the last time you did any strategic planning? Honestly? If it feels like 87 years ago, it’s probably time for another session.

Top leaders — i.e. a CEO – can sometimes feel as though he/she is clear about the direction and focus for the organization. That’s great! The problem is, that doesn’t mean anyone else is clear. (See above about people becoming focused on day-to-day tasks.)

Organizations often go a long time between strategic planning initiatives because the top leader — who would typically initiate it — assumes everything is clear and everyone is on the same page.

If it’s been more than two years, it’s time to set up a strategic planning session. You might be surprised how many different ‘pages’ exist on your team.

Five and dime

If you go to Bentonville, Arkansas and visit the town square, you can see Sam Walton’s original five-and-dime that ultimately became the Wal-Mart empire. It’s powerful to look at the original store and realize that this one store, in a tiny town in NW Arkansas, became a company that employs millions and generates billions in revenue.

Walmart Five & Dime

But were not in Arkansas and Wal-Mart doesn’t operate five and dimes anymore and hasn’t for a long, long time. It changed its strategy, and it shifts strategy again and again to remain competitive. That’s what the best organizations do, and that’s why frequent strategic planning is crucial.

Look at your core strategy, does it feel like Sam Walton’s neighborhood five and dime? Or does it feel like something that could generate $130.6B in gross profit from January 2015 to January 2016, as Wal-Mart did? (And that was a down period for them.)

If your strategy feels outdated, it’s time to invest in strategic planning.

What other reasons have you encountered in your business that led to a planning retreat or session on strategy?

image credits: Designed by Freepik

The Hidden Strategic Advantage Your Business is Missing

Many business environments these days are very now-now-now, especially publicly-traded companies that have quarterly goals to achieve.

This can bleed over into strategy; executives often want strategies that will pay immediate dividends, because that (a) makes the company perform better but also (b) makes them look better. The problem is there is a significant gap between strategy (long-term thinking and vision) and execution (how that long-term vision plays out with your employees day-to-day).


Take a look at this article from Harvard Business Review, depressingly called “Only 8% Of Leaders Are Good At Strategy and Execution,” and pay particular attention to this graphic illustrating that there are 4x as many leaders considered “neutral or worse” at the intersection of strategy and execution (35%) as opposed to those considered “very effective” (8%) at both.


Top Leaders Effectiveness at Strategy Execution & Development


This is obviously a large problem for organizations — this particular study was done in 2013 with 700+ companies across a variety of industries — and it speaks to an important aspect of strategic planning that often gets overlooked: Commitment.

When we talk about strategy, clients can often mix it up with important business concepts like “vision” and “purpose” and “goals.” While these are all important aspects that inform the strategy, the single-most overlooked success factor of strategic planning for any organization is simply commitment.

Think of it like this; there is a good chance your leadership team isn’t yet operating from a strategic place. It takes time to get there. Time that you may feel you don’t have because you still have to make time for your daily tasks — i.e. the business of actually doing business. Making the time for all of it requires commitment.

When we say it takes more time to think strategically, here’s what we mean. Ensuring you are successful at both the strategy and the execution involves a number of steps, including:

  • An understanding of yourself and your personal goals
  • A look at your company and its strategic goals
  • Assessing the alignment between your personal goals and that of the organization
  • Your senior leadership team’s goals, both personally and for the organization
  • The market conditions and how your brand is performing
  • Your employee base and whether you have the right players in place
  • How communication gets disseminated around your business

That’s just a partial list.

For some it can seem daunting or overwhelming, but in our experience committing to a long-term view and adding these types of activities to your day-today will amplify your results and help you bridge the gap between your strategy and execution.

Within our practice at TeamWorks, for example, we design minimum three-year engagements when working with an organization on their Strategic Plan. The three-year engagement is preferable because it allows for relationships to be built — this is harder on six- or 12-month engagements.

It also allows us to develop a holistic view of an organization’s next steps that can be evaluated quarterly, in conjunction with financial metrics — giving the client time to see the impact of their decisions. Oftentimes, companies launch a new campaign or strategy and its impact can’t be seen immediately; the true resonance isn’t known for a year or more. If you take a short-term view you may miss vital insights or opportunities.

Building quarterly reviews into the plan allows us to evaluate the interplay between strategy (bigger issues) and execution (daily tasks); the latter can often overwhelm the former, but with 12 big-picture meetings across a three-year commitment, we can help organizations maintain a focus on strategy.

Are you committed to driving strategic change? Or do you simply want quick results to please a market or Board? There are ways to achieve each, but strategy can only come from a base level of commitment to the long term.

The CEO’s Guide to Strategic Planning Retreats That Get Results: PART 3

This post is the third in a three-part series on how to hold a successful strategic planning retreat. It outlines how to follow up after your retreat to ensure your organization’s ongoing success.

The other posts in this series discuss the key steps you must take before your strategic planning retreat and how to get the most value from your time during your retreat.    

10 Ways to Maintain Momentum After Your Strategic Planning RetreatPart III: 10 Ways to Maintain Momentum AFTER Your Strategic Retreat

Here’s a familiar scenario …

You invest a lot of time, energy and resources into a strategic planning retreat.

You struggle to get all of your executives together at the same time. You hash out a plan for the coming year. By the end of the retreat, your team is in alignment and excited about achieving your goals.

Then, you return to the office and nothing happens.

You get back into your day-to-day routines while the momentum dies and your strategic plan collects dust.

As a leader, it’s your job to get your team to adopt new behaviours and achieve your plan.

Here are ten things you must do after your annual strategic planning retreat to build on your momentum and ensure your organization’s long-term success:

1. Thank everyone for participating.

When to do this: Immediately

Send an email to your team thanking them for participating in your annual retreat. This email should be the first thing they see when they return to work. Your email should also reconfirm your new direction in high-level terms to get attendees excited about the future of your organization.

If you need help crafting this email, your retreat’s facilitator can assist with the wording.

2. Share your plan’s highlights with your entire organization.

When to do this: Immediately after the retreat

Everyone in your organization will be curious about what the executive team did during your time out of the office. Share a high-level overview of your plan with the rest of your organization shortly after your retreat. You don’t need to go into the nitty gritty details at this point. However, they will appreciate getting a sense of where the organization is headed.

3. Book next year’s retreat.

When to do this: Within a week after the retreat

You may not be ready to think about next year, but it’s wise to book your annual retreat far in advance. This will give your team enough notice, so they will commit to your retreat and won’t book vacations or other organizational events.

4. Debrief your facilitator.

When to do this: Within a week after the retreat

If you hired a facilitator for your strategic planning retreat, they will have lots of valuable insights to share with you. For example, they can counsel you about your strategy and offer advice on how to optimize your organization. They’ll give you a neutral, third-party opinion of your strengths, weaknesses and where you should focus your energy going forward.

Since a facilitator is a neutral third-party, your team will likely feel more comfortable opening up to them than to you during your retreat. After all, no one wants to disagree with the boss. Your facilitator can share what they experienced or sensed when they interacted with your team members.

5. Debrief your team members.

When to do this: Within a week after the retreat – after the debrief with your facilitator

Meet one-on-one with attendees to get their feedback on the strategic plan. Are they satisfied with your new direction? Do they have any concerns that they didn’t state in front of the group during your retreat? Did they share any concerns or insights with your facilitator that you want to address? If they have concerns, you can discuss them privately to try to get them onboard with your new plan.

6. Review your plan.

When to do this: Two to seven days after the retreat

It’s a good idea to let your plan “sit” for a few days and then go back and look at it with fresh eyes. Just don’t wait too long to review your plan, as you don’t want to loose the momentum that you worked to build during the retreat.

When you review your plan, confirm that it aligns with where you want your organization to go. Also double-check that it’s achievable. You can tweak your plan a little, but it’s important to lock it in.

7. Recommit to your plan.

When to do this: No longer than two weeks after the retreat

Hold a half-day recommitment session with your facilitator and your team. During this half-day session, you can reconfirm everyone’s commitment to the plan and make sure that they will execute it.

Have your team read the plan aloud. Reading their own words aloud will engage their emotions. They’ll get excited and be more likely to take action.

8. Share the details with your organization.

When to do this: Immediately after your recommitment session.

Once you recommit to your plan, give everyone in your company a detailed overview of your strategy. You can break down departmental goals and activities. This will help the plan become part of your organization’s DNA.

9. Make your plan real.

When to do this: Every day!

Your strategy should be a living plan that impacts every person and decision in your organization. Make your plan stick by making it public. For example, you can create a video about your new direction or print your mantra on T-shirts. You can fill your meeting spaces with positive words and images that depict where you want the organization to go. Over time, your employees and stakeholders will come to live and breathe your plan.

10. Conduct regular follow ups

When to do this: Monthly or quarterly

The biggest strategic planning mistake is putting your plan on a shelf and failing to execute it.

If you’re too busy to manage your plan, your facilitator can help. Your facilitator can stay on top of the strategic plan and keep it updated. They can also create an accountability process to ensure your team is acting on the plan and meeting their goals.

Your facilitator can schedule monthly meetings, where your team reports on their progress and holds each other accountable. Having your facilitator put together a disciplined process with regular check-ins builds momentum while reducing your need to be the “accountability cop”.

However, as a leader, you must be the first person to take action and achieve your goals. Your example will motivate others in your organization to do the same.

Creating a strategic plan and following up with it is the most forward-looking activity that your organization can do. Many leaders spend too much time looking out their rearview mirrors and analyzing things that happened in the past. However, it’s vital to look at the road ahead if you want to gain speed and race past your competitors.

Don’t miss the other blog posts in The CEO’s Guide to Strategic Planning Retreats That Actually Gets Results! Be sure to check out the posts on the essential steps you must take before your strategic planning retreat and how to get the most value from your time during your retreat.

The CEO’s Guide to Strategic Planning Retreats That Get Results: PART 2

This post is the second in a three-part series on how to hold a successful strategic planning retreat. It outlines how to get the most value from your time during your annual retreat.

The other posts in this series discuss the key steps you must take before your strategic planning retreat and how to follow up to ensure your organization’s ongoing success.

6 Ways to Maximize Time During Your Strategic Planning RetreatPART II: 6 Ways to Maximize Your Time During a Strategic Planning Retreat.

You’ve likely attended an unproductive strategic planning retreat in the past. You had to leave the office – and maybe even your home – for a few days and travel to a remote destination that promised to make magic happen within your team. But when you got there your team talked about all the same things as last year and didn’t really accomplish anything, and your organization didn’t change for the better.

We feel your pain and, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Your strategic planning retreat should be an inspiring event where your team members work together to achieve great things for your organization. This requires a mix of creativity, collaboration and fun.

Here are six things a leader should do during a strategic planning retreat to inspire your team and align them around a shared vision:

1. Listen.

Many leaders are competitive and high in dominance. While these qualities are what makes them powerful leaders, they can also get in the way when building a team game plan.

A leader’s strength of personality can overpower their team during meetings – often without their even knowing it. Controlling the conversation will cause your team to shut down. If you want to craft a strong strategic plan, you need to share the reigns with your team.

The most powerful strategic plans are the ones that teams create in real-time. The more your team members contribute to the plan, the more they will gain a sense of ownership. Then, they will be inspired to take action and help your organization achieve long-term success.

2. Define your “WHY”, “WHAT”, and “HOW”.

To build an on-purpose strategic plan, you must address the following topics:

  1. WHY you exist. Develop or reaffirm your core philosophy. What is your mission? What are your core values?
  2. WHAT your goals are for next few years. What will have the biggest impact on your growth, customers and employees?
  3. HOW you will execute your strategic plan. What are your strategies, tactics, and timelines? Who will be responsible for conducting the work required and by when?

3. Move from the macro to the micro and finally, back to purpose.

Your organization likely has “big picture” people who love to talk about philosophy. You also probably have more “operationally focused” people who are driven by completing tasks and paying attention to details. Many team members won’t want to contribute to the big picture until they have a chance to address, share, or sometimes vent about their challenges. Once they are satisfied that their issues are going to be addressed, only then can they focus on strategy and purpose.

Start the retreat by discussing the macro – what’s going on externally, and give some thought to organizational purpose. Then, evolve the conversation to your organizational goals and the issues you face. We employ a technique where everyone confidentially addresses challenges by writing what’s preventing their success on a cue card that we resolve together. From there, everyone can move back up to refine their actions and goals, as well as confirm the organization’s purpose.

4. Give all of your team members floor time.

Every organization has people who love to take center stage and people who prefer to work quietly behind-the-scenes.

It’s important to give everyone a chance to participate. Ensure you hear from the introverts and analytical types who tend to keep their insights to themselves. This means you need to control the extroverts who are dominating the conversation and incorporate a process that encourages and allows the quieter types to engage.

Your team should also feel like they are in a safe space where they can be honest about their opinions. Moderate the conversation to make sure that no one is embarrassed or ridiculed when they share their thinking.

5. Be an example.

The leader must serve as an example for the team. This means sharing your passions and commitment, as well as demonstrating some vulnerability. Leaders must typify the culture and values of the organization they lead. While business is a game of efficiency, productivity, and results it is also a game that needs heart, passion, and caring. Leaders who live by all of these traits are the ones who inspire followers and lead their venture to greatness.

At a memorable strategic planning retreat, a new leader shared a lot about his background, fears, and challenges. His honesty helped the team relate to him. He led by setting the example and the entire team – which was previously competitive, combative, and at odds with one another – became more honest and collaborative. It also helped the team be more willing to get on board with a common vision.

6. Have fun.

Fun? At a strategic planning retreat? You bet!

Strategic planning is stressful. Big decisions affecting lives and careers take place at these events. However, it’s important to break up your work sessions with some fun. Explore the sites. Take part in outdoor activities. Conduct some activities that you wouldn’t normally do at work. Have a few beverages together. These activities can build morale and help your team get to know each other.

Creating an on-purpose strategic plan is a team process. When your team works together, it crafts a powerful plan that will help your organization grow, drive revenue and blast past your competitors.

Stay tuned for the final blog post in this series, where you will discover how to follow up after the retreat to ensure success. Also, be sure to check out the first post, which offered tips on what to do before your strategic planning retreat.

The CEO’s Guide to Strategic Planning Retreats That Get Results: PART 1

Purposeful strategic planning is critical to the success of any organization. As a leader, the most important activity of your position it so set and achieve your organization’s annual strategic plan.

This three-part series is designed to give you a step-by-step framework for planning, executing and debriefing your strategic planning retreat to ensure maximum results.

Part I: What To Do Before Your Annual Retreat

First, we begin by outlining the key things you need to do before your retreat, so you can get your team onboard and create a powerful strategic plan.

According to Insights 2020 research, organizations that “over-perform” in terms of revenue growth link everything that they do to a clearly defined purpose. When your team members share a powerful purpose, they become more collaborative and creative. This will help you stand out from your competitors, reach your goals and drive revenue.

One of the best opportunities to align your team around a shared purpose is during your annual strategic planning retreat. Giving your teams time to step away from their day-to-day routines allows them to focus on the big picture and how they contribute to the overall purpose and mission of the organization.

Some leaders are skeptical about the strategic planning process, considering it a waste of time or boring at the very least. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you create a strategic planning process that centers around the unique needs of your organization and is structured so that all team members participate in the construction of the plan, it can produce exceptional results.

Here are seven things to do before your retreat to put your organization on the path to success:

1. Decide if you want to create a team strategic plan

As a leader, you have two options for creating a strategic plan:

      1. Create one yourself
      2. Develop one as a team

Creating a plan yourself may be appropriate during crisis or turnaround situations. However, in most cases the more powerful approach is to develop a plan with your team – harnessing their passion, input, knowledge, and power.

Developing a plan is an engaging team process. Creating a strategic plan that aligns organizational and individual purpose is extremely powerful. It gets everyone into alignment and gets them inspired about achieving shared goals.

2. Conduct market and team research

To make it to the finish line, you must know where you’re starting from. Conduct research before your strategic planning retreat to understand what’s going in your industry, with your customers, and in your company.

For example, you can:

  • Determine if your organization is on purpose or off course.
  • Collect market data on what your customers are thinking and what they want.
  • Research what external factors are impacting your market.
  • Conduct an employee audit or survey to gain an even better understanding of your organization’s culture and morale.
  • Perform financial forecasting and look at the implications of different options.
  • Identify potential growth opportunities.

3. Pick a date

The best time for a strategic planning retreat differs for every organization. Plan your retreat during a slow period, when sending your leadership team out of the office will have the least impact on your operations. Pick a date that gives your team time to ramp up for the next cycle or season. Although the summer months tend to be slower, they may not be the best time for a retreat if much of your staff is on vacation.

Many organizations try to cram their retreat into two days. While doing it in two days is better than not doing it at all, in many cases, this tight timeframe won’t always give your team room to think creatively. Try to get away for several days and incorporate some relaxing and team building activities into the agenda. This allows your team to build relationships with one another, as well as be more productive and creative during your planning sessions.

4. Determine whom to invite

Invite a cross-section of your organization – from veterans to rookies – to your strategic planning retreat. Include people from different parts of the organization, especially those who interact with customers.

For example, you can consider inviting:

  • The core people you need to execute your strategic plan
  • Senior executives
  • Board members and/or advisors
  • Key customers who can share their experiences
  • New team members, as the retreat will get them up to speed quickly and allow them to develop rapport with their colleagues
  • 1-2 potential future leaders who could gain valuable experience at the retreat

Try to limit the group to 15 people. Going beyond this number can hinder the free-flow of ideas.

5. Pick a location

It’s vital to get out of the office – and away from distractions – during your strategic planning retreat. Picking a scenic environment with unique activities will make your retreat memorable and boost team spirit. It’s also a reward for asking your team to leave their homes for an extended period.

Make sure your venue has good catering and meeting facilities. But don’t pick a venue that is too formal, as a stuffy setting will reduce collaboration and participation.

6. Plan your agenda

Create an agenda and share it with your team at least one week in advance. This gives them time to pull together information before the retreat and prepare for the various activities. Your agenda should be somewhat flexible in terms of topics and timelines. Don’t try to cram in too many topics, as you likely won’t get through everything.

Here are some key topics that will help you build an on-purpose strategic plan:

  • WHY: Develop or reaffirm your core philosophy, or “why” you exist. What is your mission? What are your core values?
  • WHAT: Discuss “what” your organization’s goals are for the coming year.
  • HOW: Plan “how” you will executive your strategic plan. What are your timelines? Who will be responsible for what?

7. Hire a facilitator

It’s always best to to engage a third-party facilitator for your strategic planning retreat. An internal team member will always have biases that impact your planning. And when the leader tries to moderate a planning session, they often unintentionally shut down their team. After all, no one wants to argue with the boss!

Your team will feel more comfortable contributing with the help of a neutral third-party facilitator. The more they open up, the more insights you will gain about how you can improve your organization and drive results.

Find a facilitator you trust – one with the right amount of experience to guide your team through this complex maze. Look for someone who inspires your team but is modest enough to step back and let you and your team take the credit. Your facilitator should also be prepared to challenge your leader and team to be their best … but not in a threatening or overpowering manner.

What you do before your strategic planning retreat has a huge impact on your results. It’s vital to get your team excited about the planning process, as this will align everyone around a shared vision and help you achieve your goals.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where we will share strategies for running your planning retreat and how to follow up after the retreat to ensure your ongoing success.


3 Questions That Will Make 2016 Your Most Successful Year Ever

I can hardly believe it but, 2016 has finally arrived! Now that the presents are unwrapped and the party guests have gone home, its time to set your sights on what will make this your BEST YEAR YET!

However, while 45% of the population sets New Year’s Resolutions, only 8% actually follows through and achieves them. So, why do so few of us manage to beat the odds and keep our resolutions or achieve our new goals? My theory is that most of us don’t develop an actual PLAN to help us reach our goals.

All too often we return to work after the holidays and get bogged down with projects, meetings and deadlines. When day-to-day tasks get in the way, it’s hard to step back and get the perspective you need to stay focused on achieving those big audacious goals.

Not to worry, we’ve got you covered! As part of my ongoing commitment to helping leaders realize their full potential, I’ve crafted a quick exercise to help.

3 big questions to focus on your biggest goals

Pulled from our Strategic Planning Toolkit this fast and easy challenge will help you identify your goals for the year and begin to develop a step-by-step plan to actually make them happen.

1. WHAT: What do you want to achieve during 2016?

Be specific. Make your goals realistic and achievable. Also, be sure that each goal will deliver value to you, your family, your friends or your career. You can also answer these questions for your organization or for specific teams.

2. WHY: Why do you want to achieve these goals? What is your inspiration and rationale?

Understanding your “why” is important, as it unleashes your core causes and passions. Identifying your inspiration and the impact you want to have will help you become a powerful, purpose-driven leader.

3. HOW: How will you get to where you want to go? What high-level actions and bite-sized steps must you take? What are your deadlines for each step? What resources do you need during each step?

Knowing which next-best-step to take will ensure you are always moving forward toward your goals. Being aware of any resources or assistance you will need along the way will help you create a plan that is realistic and achievable.

Plan, document and share.

I’ve created a simple worksheet for you to use (seen below) to document your responses. Click here to download the worksheet and use it to ask yourself the three questions above, for the three most important areas of your life. I’ve included You, Family & Friends and Career as leaders typically think these areas are the most critical. However, feel free to change these categories to whatever is most important for you.

3 Questions That Will Make 2016 Your Most Successful Year Ever
Download the worksheet to document and share your goals!

Now, give yourself a maximum of 30 minutes to do this exercise.

Don’t spend too much time on this – you don’t need to. You’ll get the best results with a small amount of focused planning. If you need more room, use your own chart or paper. If you want to get creative, you can use pictures or drawings of your goals to help bring it to life.

Once you’ve filled in all the blanks, review your goals to see if they are achievable. If it’s too much, you can scale it back. I recommend three goals in each category, as this is an achievable number that can have a huge impact on your life.

When you’re satisfied with your answers, put this chart in a place where you will see it every day. For example, you can print it and hang it above your computer. That way, your goals will stay top of mind throughout the year.

You can also share this grid with a friend, family member or co-worker and have them hold you accountable to making it happen. You’re more likely to make your dreams a reality when someone is cheering you on.

Let me know in the comments below what it was like for you to complete this exercise. We would love to hear about the goals you’re working on!


The #1 Mistake That’s Ruining Your Strategic Plan

If you’re building a strategic plan, it’s inevitable that someone will tell you to hire a consultant. However, this is a huge mistake.

We strongly recommend that you never hire a consultant to help with your strategic planning work. This may sound strange coming from what you think is a consulting firm. However, typical strategy consultants seldom deliver the results you need to prosper.

Consultant Definition: A person who provides expert advice professionally.

Consultants come into your organization and tell you what to do. They are “experts” who know the answers. However, no one likes to be told what to do. Telling someone what to do makes them defensive and almost always causes others to resist or shut down. Advice from outside “experts” is almost always rejected by internal teams.

Bringing in an outside consultant will also dis-empower you and cause your team to lose faith in your leadership skills! This can make matters in your organization worse, as this weakens your ability as a leader, alienates your team and prevents it from reaching your business goals.

As most successful business leaders know, hiring an external strategy consultant usually delivers a weak return on investment and may even result in poorer performance! The consultant’s advice simply doesn’t work, which leaves you with an alienated team, a huge bill and very few results to show for it.

Over the years, I have learned many lessons from leaders in business, sports and psychology. In my quest to help people prosper, I have learned that engaging a facilitator is a far more powerful way to engage and positively transform your organization.

Facilitator Definition: A neutral person who helps people understand, plan and achieve common objectives.

Facilitators are not experts – or pretending to be experts – in your business. Instead, they are more like enablers or coaches who help you and your team choose the best path. They help guide you and your team to craft the road map that will help you reach your goals.

Here are three reasons why you should choose a Facilitator over a Consultant:

1. You’ll empower your team.

Facilitators are neutral third parties who manage your planning process. Instead of telling you what to do, they leverage your team’s existing knowledge and expertise. You and your team are the experts with years of experience. A facilitator encourages your team to collaborate and come up with the best course of action. A good facilitator will engage and energize your team – giving it a sense of ownership over the direction of your organization. And after all, 90% of success is in attitude, belief and determination.

2. You’ll save money.

Hiring a strategy consulting firm costs significantly more than hiring a strategy facilitator. When you hire a consultant, you pay for a highly educated, experienced expert with a superiority attitude, from a large firm with huge overhead. These “experts” need to spend lots of time learning about your business – and then they charge you for it! They’ll run up a huge hourly bill figuring out what you do and then come up with a plan they tell you will work for your business. They’ll engage their high-priced market research, strategy and HR partners to develop a strategic plan that your team is unlikely to execute.

Instead, a strategy facilitator is someone who can do the work of three or four consulting firms because they leverage the existing knowledge, expertise and capability of your team. They engage your team, because an engaged team is a winning team. A qualified strategy facilitator collaborates with your team to conduct your market research and helps your team come up with its own strategic plan. Then, they help the leader motivate and empower the team to make the plan work. They facilitate sessions with your team on an ongoing basis to ensure that they implement your plan. A strategy facilitator allows you to do way more, with fewer resources.

3. You’ll get things done faster.

It can take an external consultant months to build your strategic plan. This puts a lot of strain on your budget, resources and staff. It is also a huge competitive disadvantage. A talented facilitator with a computer-assisted process can go on a retreat with your team today and immediately deliver a solid plan that you can execute tomorrow.

The strategy consultant’s approach results in a fixed, rigid plan that is expensive to change. This makes it hard to evolve your strategic plan as the market changes. Facilitators deliver much more flexible approaches, so you can adapt your plan in real time as the market changes dynamically.

Hiring a strategy facilitator gives you greater team engagement, commitment and performance. This translates into an effective powerful strategic plan that fuels your business growth.


5 Keys to Building a Strategic Plan That Fuels Growth

Many leaders and teams don’t spend enough time building a strategy. It can be hard to focus on your organization’s strategy when you’re trying to balance your daily tasks, meetings and interruptions.

However, operating without a strategy is like walking around in the dark. The most important job of the leader is to plan for what lies ahead. Think of your strategy as the compass that guides your organization to new levels of success.

Ongoing strategic planning can bring you a number of benefits, including:

  • Increased revenue and faster growth
  • A focused and productive team that works together to meet customer needs
  • Employees who feel a sense of ownership when they take part in your planning and gain some control over your direction
  • Less frustration and wasted efforts
  • Improved company morale and a more fun work environment

5 keys to building a strategic plan that helps your organization thrive:

1. Conduct market intelligence.

Think of your market research like military reconnaissance that will give you insights into the landscape and your opponents. Start by looking at your industry to find out what’s evolving and what your competitors are doing.

Interview your customers via an independent third party to find out what’s important to them and what they will need in the future. Ask what your organization is doing well and how you can improve. Don’t rely solely on your sales team for this information, as customers likely won’t tell your sales reps the whole truth.

Once you have this information, you can evaluate your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. You’ll also know where you stand relative to your competitors.

Conduct this research on an annual or biannual basis to keep up with evolving customer needs and market trends.

2. Engage your team in your strategic planning.

Hold an annual planning off-site retreat with your leadership team. Getting away from the office lets you push aside distractions, so you can focus on your strategic plan and build teamwork.

Cover these core four key areas during your retreat:

  1. Your Philosophy. Why do you exist? What are your values at a higher, philosophical level?
  2. Your Strategy. Where do you want to go? How will you get there?
  3. Your Goals. What are the SMART goals that you want to achieve in the future?
  4. Your Action Plan. What steps will you take to achieve your goals? What are the target completion dates for key tasks? Who will be the champions for each of the tasks?

During your retreat, have your entire leadership team craft your strategic plan together. This is a powerful process that puts everyone in alignment. When everyone on your team contributes to developing your strategic plan, they will be much more committed to helping the team achieve your goals.

Need help developing your Strategic Plan? Check out our Ultimate Strategic Plan Template. 


3. Build the right team.

Every year, evaluate your team to determine if they have the passion, behaviour and skills to achieve your goals. How does your current team and team profile compare with your ideal structure? As your organization evolves, you will likely need different people with different skills. You may also need to give your current team training to enhance their skills.

4. Execute your strategy.

Hold monthly or quarterly leadership team meetings to make sure you and your team execute the strategy. Update your team on key initiatives, remind them of their goals and ensure champions complete their tasks. This will improve responsibility, accountability and maintain alignment.

5. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Strategic planning is an ongoing process. As the market changes, you’ll need to change with it. Your plan should be flexible, so you can tweak it to quickly respond to changes and keep your organization on track.

It’s useful to have an outside third party manage or facilitate your strategic planning process. If the leader or a team member tries to moderate a strategy session, they will likely unintentionally shut down the team. In addition, team members will likely feel another team member facilitating is biased. They may not feel comfortable opening up in front of their leader. No one wants to disagree with the boss!

Your team will feel more comfortable engaging in the strategic planning process with the help of a neutral third-party facilitator. The more they open up, the more insights you will gain about how you can improve your organization and drive results.

Need help developing your Strategic Plan? Check out our Ultimate Strategic Plan Template.