Six Big Stakeholder Opportunities in Planning Strategy

Taking the potential for stress out of planning isn’t easy. In fact, though it’s usually unnecessary, anxiety is a reasonable thing to expect.

Hot Docs, Strategy, Brett Hendrie
Hot Docs Three-Year Plan video

Here’s an example of where an organization engaged various stakeholders in a series of collaborative events, collected feedback, insights, and suggestions and then turned them into a dynamic 3-year plan.

What are the 6 opportunities to dismiss anxiety and, instead, engage in collaborative goal setting?

  • Engage to identify the needs and aspirations of stakeholders, in particular, customers. Don’t forget the staff are stakeholders too.
  • Put time and resources aside to prepare for participation; collect insights and suggestions.
  • Set organizational goals in collaboration with the stakeholders.
  • Foster greater acceptance by staff of the need to take responsibility for developing and implementing plans that work in the rough and tumble of the real world.
  • Follow through on the learning and insights by sharing the plan widely.
  • Help stakeholders achieve value from the collaborative learning – you’ll need them as you implement the plan.

More tips:

Avoid SWOT thinking that emphasizes analyzing the weaknesses and threats.

We have been indoctrinated to believe that you must know the cause before you can do something about the problem – Insoo Kim Berg

Listen empathetically to people’s complaints about the problems they perceive, acknowledge them and move on.

Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices – William James

Build on the momentum of progress the organization is already making.

The purpose of each successive session is to assess change and to help to maintain it – de Shazer

Remember that when you are implementing the plan and unexpected complications arise, you’ll have the stakeholders on your side.

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans – Allen Saunders

More on using Solution Focus in strategic planning: 4 Strategic Planning Co-creation Steps & Benefits


The endorsement:

Hot Docs Town Hall
Hot Docs Town Hall

“So many of our most successful initiatives have come from the unlikeliest sources, but always in the context of robust planning. Alan’s process has focused on collaborative conversations, mixing together our diverse stakeholders whose different perspectives often combine to create wonderful and spontaneous new ideas. What we’ve learned is that having our partners, customers and staff directly involved in the genesis of plans only amplifies their ability (and motivation) to support the final goals.”  – Brett Hendrie, ED, Hot Docs


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4 Strategic Planning Co-creation Steps & Benefits

Strategic co-creation planning…what’s that?

Co-creation to speed up understanding, buy-in, implementation

Many organizations, particularly those in the for-profit SME and the NFP sectors have, until now, operated well on the outdated annual programme/budget basis. Now, downward pressure on income and/or funding is revealing the lack of organizational skills in both management and programme development and delivery. They are ineffective and/or inefficient for new complex market conditions. Change has come calling at the door and the need for strategic outcomes-driven planning is overdue. Some even argue that strategic planning is outdated…

Traditionally, strategic planning takes time and requires expertise, often delivered from the outside. The experts examine the problems and devise solutions, goals, strategies, etc. The plan they deliver may be somewhere between ideal and flawed, but we can’t know until it’s been implemented. The risk is in people, (staff/partners/stakeholders/funders/customers) taking their time to become engaged in the strategic plan. It’s often difficult to get them to stop doing what is supposed to change. It’s a slow process.

You can take the horse to water, but can’t make the horse drink it.

What’s the option? How does a Solution Focused co-created planning process speed up the process of planning change, especially in looking at long-term outcomes?

It asks three simple questions you’ve heard before on these pages: What is working that we don’t need to change? What do we do more of/ instead of the problem? What do we need to do to see immediate progress?

The approach is used to engage many stakeholder perspectives in assessing

What’s working (that we don’t want to change)? There’s always more than we realize. Benefit: Moves people from hopeless to hopeful

What needs to be different/better? We clarify the problem, but do not make it central to the solution Benefit: It’s easier to see what we will stop doing.

What will it look like when the problem is no longer present? When asked this way, people discover what they have in common. Benefit: build a plan that leverages input and insight of all parties.

What would we see ourselves doing to initiate the change? Benefit: The change can begin at the start of the planning.

Engage the horse in getting it to the water it will drink.


Yes, but what if the people engaged are wrong about what needs to be done? They may be wrong, but no more so than the planning experts. If they own it, they will make it work flaws and all. If they don’t own it, they will take more time to engage.

Yes, but what if the staff (and others) are resistant to any change? Start by asking them (and their customers) what’s working and what needs to be better. Watch the change start happening. It may have to slow down a bit if they are deeply entrenched.

Key ingredient: early cross-stakeholder alignment (everyone is a stakeholder) and the above solution focused better questions. When everyone is aligned around the new desired outcomes, the plan falls in place more naturally.

It is a co-creation planning process. 

More on the better questions that Solution Focus brings to co-creation

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The Silo is Dead. Long Live the Silo!


First: organizational silos are not a bad thing.

They are created by pools of expertise, required in matrix organizations and in compliance-driven businesses.

Second: silos are bad – very bad – for the customer when the silos hide behind their expertise, hoard power and lack expertise in collaboration.

They also encourage passivity among those silos that perceive they lack power or influence.

Silo management, solution focus, employee engagement

Some organizations are very good at avoiding silo issues – my favorite example is Zappos (no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy!) – but it will be a while before that approach takes root.

Silos struggle for power and/or act aimlessly when the leader and executive team are not aligned around vision/mission, values and, in particular, the customer strategy (never mind the operational and organizational strategy). Bottom line, silos reduce collective impact.

1. The hidden cost is lost productivity and ineffective alignment with the customer.

2. A visible cost is the inability to deal effectively with change or competitive threat.

3. Lack of alignment also prevents the utilization of people and financial resources to become even more effective for the customer, e.g., your CRM system needs upgrading, but internal conflict constrains both thinking about the strategy for the system and the allocation of funds.

4. The people making progress on strategy and focusing on the customer are constrained in their customer engagement by the people working with a silo mindset.

But, this is not news. Having clarified the issue how do we use some Solution Focus tools to turn it into an opportunity?

Or, while we await executive alignment, what can we do to help the teams begin to collaborate? How can Solution Focus make a contribution?

Click to download
Click to download

Here’s an example from a recent meeting where several groups had been finding it difficult to align around a customer experience project. Note how the language of the agenda is both solutions and outcome focused.

How do we know this works?

As one manager said after several customer co-creation kitchen tables, ‘We now never start a meeting, especially with cross-functional teams, without asking, ‘How will this discussion be useful to the customer?’   


12 Better Questions to Ask Un-cooperative Colleagues

Cooperation. Collaboration. Easy to prescribe. Hard to do. Why?

Because everyone is operating with different views of the goals. Some people might be skilled at their job, but still don’t know how to cooperate. Others may be anxious to hide their deficiencies on the project so they cannot cooperate. You get the picture.

It’s a hidden cost in your next project. And, there’s little point in analyzing why cooperation on your project is going to be difficult!

How do we simplify things a little, improve productivity and make progress? Ask better questions using a *Solution Focus framework:

  • Thinking of our project what’s working so far, or worked in the past?

This is a platform for noticing resources available to start moving forward

  • Thinking of our goals for the work, how would you express them?

Make sure you are talking the same outcomes and language to describe them.

  • What will be better / different from the last time or the current state?

Clarify perceived problems about getting to the goal. Clarify what needs to happen, but do not enter problem analysis.

  • Suppose we achieve our goal, what will be happening for the various stakeholders, including the customers and ourselves?

Get a richer picture of the goal outcomes to ensure that you are talking about the same outcomes. Find out what everyone wants.

  • Thinking of those outcomes, how will that be useful to each of us, i.e., achieving our personal / team goals?

Attach outcomes to individual needs.

  • What surprises / obstacles do we face in achieving the goals?

There are bound to be problems. Flush them out, but avoid problem analysis.

  • What would we do to overcome those surprises / obstacles?

Alleviate fears that will get in the way. Build resourcefulness ahead of time.

  • When we are successful, what will we and our leaders be saying about our cooperation / collaboration that helped to make it happen?

Be assumptive about the possibilities. Assume good faith will preside if everyone is pursuing the same outcomes.

  • What will we see ourselves doing to support each other, even when things get complicated?

Continue to have the team / individuals add details as to how cooperation will happen.

  • How will we acknowledge our successes, both as we progress and at the end?

Noticing (and measuring) success helps them notice their capabilities to cooperate.

  • What will be the first signs that we are making progress with our cooperation?

Get them doing something right away so they have evidence of their capabilities.

  • What would we each like to say to acknowledge your colleagues’ cooperation in this discussion?

Gets more fast-start application of cooperation.

Why ask so many questions? Slow down to speed up your project. 

Take an hour with the team st the start of your next project. Answer the questions. Save many inefficient hours getting to the outcomes.

*About Solution Focus

Everyone’s trying to collaborate…

…just not each other’s way.People are trying to collaborate. Solution focus.

Crazy, or counter to what you know about your organization though this may seem, it’s actually true.

Despite situations where divisiveness appears rampant, or at least well practiced, there are always some forms of collaboration taking place … a lot more than is understood.

After all, people turn up every day to their job, attend meetings, launch new projects, achieve some of their goals, etc. They may even work to the same plan or set of assumptions about what’s required to be successful.

Even the deeply non-collaborative folks are doing something to preserve momentum.

The issue is, where it happening? And, how do we make something of the collaboration once we notice it?

How do we remove the barriers preventing more collaboration?

Remember, most of the divisiveness among people that appears to prevent collaboration is largely a construct and it’s between the people.


Yes, the people are usually not the problem, but what’s between them.


Ask the following questions. In each case, extract an exhaustive list of the answers.

Where are we already collaborating?

When is the divisiveness not a problem?

What are the purposeful outcomes when the collaboration occurs?

How might we do more of that?

What would be the first steps to making progress?

Should we actually conduct such an audit? Initially, a lot!! But, with the intention that it become a mindset among the people – from developing strategy, to delivering projects, to deciding on how to better serve the customer.

True collaboration is a skill that takes practice. Sometimes there are systemic reasons why collaboration is elusive. Despite that, have people notice and amplify when they are collaborating. 


Note: I believe the author of the ‘Everyone’s trying to collaborate’ headline for this blog is Jim Duval. If not, Jim you get credit for evangelizing it. 


When collaboration ‘kills innovation’ try co-creation

Finally, collaboration is in vogue! So why is someone saying that it kills innovation?

I’m sick of collaboration. It makes things mushy and kills innovation

So spoke a participant impatient for change at a recent planning session.

It could be that, in this person’s field, some of the collaborators are actually more interested in the politics, or the lowest common denominator, or worse … compromise!

…this means bringing diverse groups together to deal with ambiguity and complexity. Leaders must be adept at the use of influence as they will most likely be operating without power and authority over many of the participants.  Crossen and Olivera

Yes, innovators … you do have to be patient with the status quo. But, stop for a minute! How do you maintain your standard for moving forward, being ahead of the pack and collaborate through co-creation?

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.   Oliver Wendell Holmes

How do you get others to buy into your ideas without having to circumvent others and make progress faster then they appreciate? Avoid assuming that people are not ready for your idea, but instead they are:

  • Moving at a slower pace than you
  • In a different place, but are interested in similar outcomes as you are
  • Wanting to cooperate with you, just not your way
  • Not resisting your idea, but your impatience

Remember, that your innovative idea will come alive through test and learn practices. Why not co-create with those who might not actually be your detractors?

Solution focused co-creation ideas for the naturally impatient innovator:

Sell the benefit to them, not the idea itself. Ask yourself:

‘Suppose people were to buy in to my idea and engaged in its use, how would it be working for them? What would they be saying that they appreciate about it?’

Help them understand the idea by first asking:

‘Suppose it worked for you, what parts of it would please you most?’

When they raised objections to your idea ask:

‘Imagine that were no longer a problem, what would we be doing that works?’

‘What one thing do you see that might be done better and how would that be useful?’

Innovators, make your solution part of everyone’s solution by co-creating the Solution Focus way.