How can leaders come out of their annual sessions with the right plan for their business? This is the question we recently discussed with Gravitas Impact premium coach Ken Thiessen.
Pulling from 30 years of experience, Thiessen walked us through some of the roadblocks that can arise during the planning session and shared some valuable insights on how coaches can help their clients navigate them.
Right Questions Vs Right Answers
Thiessen begins by identifying the difference between good companies and great companies – a distinction that hinges on the focus of the planning process. He says that good companies use this time to find the right answers, whereas the truly great companies use it to uncover the right questions.
“With the great companies,” Thiessen said, “the planning process is more of a mechanism for disciplined thought. It’s a process of vigorous, rigorous debate between the best minds in the room.”
Thiessen says that if the leadership team is unable to ask the necessary questions or face the brutal facts, then they aren’t going to come away with the right plan. This is one area where the coach can be especially impactful.
“As coaches, we bring an outside perspective and curiosity,” Thiessen said. “Often, I’ll ask the questions that the team is too afraid to ask internally. Invariably, there’s someone in the room who has been thinking the same thing but didn’t have the courage to speak up.”
Moreover, the coach can play a huge role in breaking down any assumptions or preconceived notions about the business that might inhibit the planning process. Thiessen says that, in his experience, the longer someone has been involved with an organization, the easier it is for them to get too comfortable and act according to the ill-conceived principle of “this is just the way it is.” Not only do coaches come in with fewer assumptions, they bring the experience of helping other organizations work through similar issues.
“Sometimes the team is so enmeshed with the business that they don’t see the things they need to be looking at or some of the things that might be threats to their long-term sustainability and viability,” Thiessen said.
Keeping The Leadership Team Healthy
It’s going to be tremendously difficult to ask the right questions if the parties involved aren’t properly aligned. In fact, Thiessen says that a healthy leadership team is critically important to developing the right plan. The inability to talk about the issues, challenge one another, and face internal problems head-on is a big red flag signaling that the planning process is off the rails.
“That’s my start point,” he said. “If the team is not healthy, if they don’t trust each other, if they can’t engage in difficult conversations, and if they can’t engage in conflict well, then it doesn’t matter what the plan is, it’s going to fall flat.”
Of course, team health isn’t measured by cooperation alone. Thessian says that on many occasions, his clients have come into the room assuming everyone is strategically on the same page and pulling in a similar direction. However, as they move through the process, they discover significant disagreements regarding priorities and growth. Again, this is an area where the coach can play a critical role.
If the resistance or friction is coming directly from the CEO, Thiessen suggests taking the CEO aside and having a one-to-one conversation offline to figure out why. If it’s the overall team, he suggests that the coach, as the moderator, facilitate a constructive conversation between everyone involved.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” Thiessen said. “Ignoring the elephant doesn’t make it go away. As coaches, we have to have the courage to walk into those situations and name it for what it is, because it’s hampering the effectiveness of the organization.”
Accountability Is the Secret Ingredient
Even if you follow the advice above, there’s one last component that makes all the difference between a good plan and the right plan: accountability. Who is going to be accountable for the execution, the priorities, or the results?
“Many times, companies would create a great plan, but fail to implement it,” Thiessen said. “So who cares how good the plan is if no one is going to follow up?”
This is an important piece of the puzzle mustn’t get overlooked. When the planning session wraps, everyone should have a clear understanding of who is accountable for what and how success will be measured.
In what ways have you helped your clients develop the right plan for their business? Share your insights in the comments!
Start by looking for the right questions, not the right answers.
Don’t let assumptions inhibit the planning process.
Be willing to talk about the facts, challenge one another, and face issues head-on.
Team health is critical! Work to ensure everyone is on the same page and pulling in the same direction.
Ensure everyone knows who will be accountable for what and how success will be measured.