Remote Strategic and Adaptive Planning: Separate But Together

By Align Advisor Emmy German

When I think of a quarterly strategic planning session, I think of a full day or two offsite where leadership and essential contributors from throughout the organization come together and brainstorm goals and metrics. Dates are set far in advance, flights are booked, and the different parts of the company from different locations all get to see each other. We laugh together, bond over many cups of coffee, and create ideas that will set the tone of the company for the upcoming three months. 

With uncertainty in the economy and anxiety about the health of our friends, families, and neighbors, now, more than ever, is a time to come together and support each other. The question is: how are we supposed to come together when we are all apart?

At Align we just had our quarterly planning session for the upcoming 2nd Quarter. Given the current situation, we knew going into our meeting that it would be different from any others before. We would be doing a mixture of our normal strategic planning along with some adaptive planning for how we will need to adjust to the disruption caused by COVID-19. I had not set high expectations for a company wide all-day meeting held over Zoom. With children, dogs, and significant others to distract us at home along with unreliable home wifi service and the inevitable “you’re on mute we can’t hear you” speed bumps of Zoom calls, I figured the meeting would be long and inefficient.

To my pleasant surprise, I was completely wrong. What could have been absolute chaos, with coworkers speaking over each other and without real structure, turned into one of the most efficient, productive strategic planning sessions we have ever had. Everyone respected each other while speaking, we reviewed our core values, we created short term goals specifically to address issues arising 30, 60 and 90 days out. We unanimously agreed on major company objectives for the quarter and even had time to break those down and cascade them into individual priorities all in a single day. Without a doubt, I can tell you that we could not have done this without our software Align.  

Of course, we practice what we preach.We use Align internally to communicate and track progress on a daily basis. However, we have never before run a strategic planning session working solely in Align, without in-person clarification to fall back on. Normally, we come up with our target metrics all sitting around a table, and we put strategic priorities on big sticky notes all over a room. The entire process is very visual and immediate with everyone in the same room. I couldn’t imagine we would ever get the same effect of a strategic planning session while meeting remotely. Instead, we put our complete trust in our software. We spoke through zoom, sent quick notes to each other through slack, and updated metrics and priorities in real-time inside Align. 

Align was an absolute game-changer for us during this strategic planning session. I watched all the individual priorities of my team come together to create the bigger picture in real-time and watching our plans so effortlessly fit together. Everything that we decided on during the meeting was quickly laid out for us all to see as we created them. In our prior sessions, we took our hand written visuals from the meeting and input them in Align later. Creating the priorities in the software as soon as we agreed upon them made it easier to follow along as others were talking. And it was already saved online where all of us had access.. The next day, I could already log into Align and quickly see who owns what priority, who is on what company priority team, and what my major milestones are for the short term.

Given that I speak with clients all day long about their experience planning and strategizing for their own companies, the weeks immediately before and after the start of a new quarter are my “busy season”. Not only was I nervous about how the quarterly planning session would go for us internally, but I was also anxious that my clients would go through the same chaos I envisioned for us with remote planning. I am happy to share a few tips to make sure your organization stays on track during your own adaptive planning session during this disruption, as well as throughout the quarter:

  1. We started off the meeting going around and each saying what external anxieties may be affecting us going into the planning session. Having the opportunity to acknowledge each other as human beings going through our own individual crazy experiences in the middle of a pandemic brought us closer together even though we are apart right now. 
  2. Before our session, we prepared and sent out a survey using the survey tool in Align to kick-off our planning. We shared results and comments from the anonymous survey and after discussions, voted on our path forward. .
  3. We asked everyone to turn on their video in the video conferencing to all see each other all day. This kept planning engaging and encouraged focus and helped us “read” each other’s reactions during brainstorming. 
  4. As projects and metrics were discussed, we immediately entered them as priorities into Align. 
  5. Any smaller (5 minutes to 5 hours to complete) action items were immediately entered as tasks into Align so that we could capture those granular steps as well.
  6. We ended the meeting going around and saying what we are grateful for today. This was a fabulous reminder that we are all in this together, through the good and the bad.

The ability to see metrics in real-time using technology that brought us together even though we are apart. That is what I am grateful for today.

To learn more about adapting your planning to changing work conditions reach out to Emmy directly or join her weekly virtual meeting

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