Change - Strategic Facilitation

by Tony Mann

Planning the agenda strategic process

So, now we come to the planning. You can liken facilitating an event to writing a piece of choreography for a complicated play or musical. Strategic process should be

  • Elegant – it should ‘look’ good; should work well in the situation and, although it may be hard, it should feel worth doing
  • Fit for purpose – this is similar to the above but it is about using the most appropriate model, tool or technique for the change agenda (not too big and clumsy and not too frail and ineffective)
  • Appropriate for the organisation – some tools need to be used by expert artisans with specialist training in their use, and the same is true in facilitating strategic process: some models, tools and techniques are just too hard for some organisations to use and, although you know that they would do the job, the organisation may not have the strategic process experience required. Better to use two tools or a different model than have the organisation lose confidence in its own ability.

The table below shows the agenda strategic process that is used to translate the (red) change agenda, goals and objectives into (green) strategic process. The change agenda leader should invite everyone who has an investment in the change/project or in planning the change/project to provide a description of change agenda and each goal. The change agenda should begin with the word ‘to...’; there should be no ‘and...’ as this suggests that there is another agenda or that the statement is not at the highest-level. If the organisation/project manager/change leader cannot identify an agenda, this is an indication that the change is in uncertainty. In this situation, accept the description and explore the goals that need to be achieved in the change.

Change agenda

Goals

Degree of uncertainty

Objectives

Strategic process

Time

Preparation

The change agenda is the intention of the change/project. This will in turn relate to the degree of uncertainty raised by the change agenda.

The goals ensure that all the different aspects of the change agenda get explored. The degree of uncertainty will determine the degree to which the agenda is broken down into goals.

The degree of uncertainty can then be defined and this will help the organisation to recognise how difficult the change agenda and goals are going to be to undertake.

The objectives ensure that all the different goals are delivered.
These in turn become the ‘red’ items in a tactical agenda process and require a ‘green’ response.

Each goal may require a different process. The format chosen will depend on the number of people being engaged, the level of process awareness of the organisation, the degree of uncertainty and the time available in which to bring about the necessary changes.

The time needed for each stage in the process so that there is an accurate picture of the total time needed.

Finally, there may be a need and a benefit that can be gained by undertaking some preparation. This should be identified and individual groups tasked with doing it.

The change agenda leader and/or the strategic facilitator then work through the change agenda and goals identifying the change agendas/activities, which will need to take place in order to achieve the end result.

  • Once the change agendas and goals are in a logical order, each goal is defined as
  • Certain (the question is known and the answer is easily identified)
  • Complex (the question is known and there will be a number of potential solutions/answers)
  • Uncertain (even the question is unclear and will need defining before solutions can be explored).
Note

Although a goal may be, for example, uncertain, an individual objective may be complex.

Remember that dealing with uncertainty takes four and a half times longer than dealing with certainty.

The first three (red) columns of the agenda strategic process are then completed and the table can be sent back to the originator(s)/sponsors who are asked

  • If it makes sense?
  • Will it achieve the objective(s)?
  • Will the item and the actions generate emotion or will the effect be neutral?

This should go into as much depth as possible. Avoid the mistake of leaving the change agenda at too high a level – it needs to be broken down to the level of ‘objectives’ (column 4) that will help achieve the required outcome. Usually this will be a joint responsibility. If, however, this approach is very new to the organisation or the organisation is dysfunctional, the strategic facilitator might then take more of a lead in identifying and helping develop the change agenda and the sequence. Ideally, though, the strategic facilitator will do this with the change agenda leader.

Once the change agenda is defined, the strategic facilitator can determine the (green) strategic process. It is vital that the change agenda leader feels comfortable with the models, tools and techniques that the strategic facilitator is proposing. Much of this discussion will take place in their planning meetings (be they face-to-face or over the telephone). However, the strategic facilitator will reflect on the change agenda and goals and may well think of different strategic process options. The design of the strategic process and choices of format may therefore take several iterations and discussions between the change agenda leader and the strategic facilitator.

Once the strategic process has been designed, the strategic facilitator will be able to determine

  • The number of workshops/events
  • Who should be involved
  • The combination of people (by level/function and so on)
  • The model(s)/tools to be used
  • The period of time required to achieve all the goals.

Time allocation

If there is a problem with time, the change agenda leader and the strategic facilitator should decide how many and which goals should stay on the agenda. This decision-making should be based on such parameters as urgency and significance (they might even use a four-box model – urgency versus significance – to decide this). The worst scenario, and one to be avoided at all costs, is the change agenda leader deciding to go ahead even if the time is inadequate. The whole point of an agenda strategic process is to identify the time line requirements accurately and to ensure that the strategic process will deliver the outcomes required. The strategic facilitator should therefore use all their powers of persuasion to ensure that the change agenda is not squeezed and the strategic process short-circuited to fit the time.

Example

A Minister of State wanted a strategic facilitator to facilitate a series of workshops for her junior ministers and their senior civil servants. The private secretary gave the strategic facilitator the brief and the change agenda and the strategic facilitator designed the strategic process to achieve the required outcomes. It became obvious that there was insufficient time to achieve all the goals.

The strategic facilitator had taken the precaution of asking for a meeting with the government minister and presented on flip charts the change agenda and the strategic process, showing each goal and its matching process. As the strategic facilitator took her through it, she acknowledged that the change agenda was valid and that the strategic process would suit the need. She saw the number of workshops and acknowledged that if each goal was to be treated with the seriousness that it deserved, then something had to give. She suggested the change agenda start earlier in the year, that she and her ministers attend each and every workshop and that they tackle goals one and two as early as possible to get the change moving. It was the meticulous planning, enabled by the strategic process, which convinced her and ensured that they had a good change plan.

Finally, the change agenda leader and the strategic facilitator should determine the preparation that will be required, set that in place, and decide who should carry out it out. Often, this preparation uses some of the four-and-a-half time which is needed in uncertainty.

Example

One year, in preparation for a three-day strategic networking conference for managers across Europe, containing a number of workshops, delegates were asked to interview three customers each (prior to the conference), using a template designed especially for the first workshop and to bring the data on Post-Its™. This saved many hours and in effect ensured that the conference was a success.

For more, see sample agendas: Tactical agenda process and Strategic change agenda process.