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strategic planning workshop: 10 warning signs

strategic planning workshopStrategic Planning Workshop: 10 Warning Signs

Today I am going to focus on some of the important lessons from the corporate strategy and transformation study as it pertains to the visioning aka strategic planning workshop. In particular, I am going to talk about the 10 warning signs that a strategic planning workshop, or any consulting workshop, is going to go wrong, when presenting to senior executives.


I remember way back in my career I was only an engagement manager, and because I had a very good relationship with a client and because I had a good relationship with the partners, I was the de-facto partner running the study and the relationship. And I remember getting a briefing from the associate principal, a level above me, on how she was going to be running the strategic planning workshop.

And I didn’t like it. Because I didn’t feel she was doing everything right that would lead to success and I asked her to change it. And, of course, because the lady was more senior to me, she became really upset, complaining that I’m too demanding and I’m asking for things were not possible for her to do.

She went ahead with her own approach, which unfortunately led to a very bad outcome for the firm. Because we didn’t get what we wanted, we looked unprepared and the strategic planning workshop just became a big exercise of time and effort without us narrowing the scope of the effort.


As I became more senior and became a partner, if I saw any of these warning signs in advance, I’d stop everything and fix them. But even when I became a partner, sometimes I would fly across to attend a strategic planning workshop run by another group of partners for another client. And I was usually asked to attend because I was a subject matter expert in a certain field or I could contribute in another way.

So I’ve seen bad strategic planning workshops at all levels whether it’s run by engagement managers, associate principles, and even partners.

strategic planning workshop

These are the things you need to look for to know your strategic planning workshop is going badly.

  1. Pre – No pre-presents
  2. Pre – Lack of a senior champion in the pre-presents
  3. Pre – Cannot identify concerns in the pre-presents
  4. Pre – No pre-planned decisions for the strategic planning workshop
  5. Pre – Focus on the “thud” factor versus key message(s)
  6. Partner unable to build a compelling story
  7. Leaving it the client to decide the issues / priorities
  8. Strategic planning workshop bogged down in technical specifics
  9. Changing the agenda to meet client concerns
  10. No metric for success

Those first five things will kill a strategic planning workshop. The sixth and seventh are critical and so is the eight, but they are manageable.

Note: if you want to see the video version of this, go to youtube, where we have the video loaded. And of course if you are an FC Insider, you can go to the corporate strategy and transformation study and see all of the detailed explanations of how we manage the study.


If there are no pre presents in an important meeting, no matter what the meeting is, no matter who it is, I will always stop the strategic planning workshop. Pre-presents are something that’s not done very often in consulting by average and even good teams. The most high-performing consultant teams always do pre presents because they are that important. Pre-presents are fundamental. You must pre-present what you will be showing to executives before you show it to them; usually days in advance.


In the pre-presents you speak to many executives but you identify one or two of them who are going to drive your message. If you cannot identify a senior champion who is going to push your message in the pre-presents then the problem you’re gonna have in the actual strategic planning workshop is you’re going to leave it to the consulting partners to push a message and a consulting firm cannot do that. It has to be someone within the organization who is going to own the message and drive it.


If you cannot identify concerns in the pre-presents then either your pre-presents are going badly or no one is paying attention. Because there are always going to be misunderstandings and things that will need to be changed during the pre-presents. That will be changed before or during the strategic planning workshop. You need to know the series of decisions that you want to make in the strategic planning workshop. It is usually one, two or three. In the corporate strategy and transformation program, we decided that we wanted to redefine the core of the business. That’s the first decision, and the second we would only focus on the core of the business.


If you don’t know what decisions you want out of a strategic planning workshop, the problem is that you could end up with a decision that you don’t want made in the strategic planning workshop. For example, the team can be doing a whole analysis about shifting a company away from outsourcing, but the strategic planning workshop then leads to the executives wanting to outsource, which means the entire direction of the study is going to shift. You have to know the pre-planned decisions so you can build the strategic planning workshop to deliver that decision and identify the executive that is going to push for that decision.


If you go for that ‘thud factor’, which is delivering a presentation with 300 slides, and you’ve been in those presentations where people just skip through slides. If they say things like, “this is not important” or they put up hundreds of slides that no one pays attention to, you have a problem. In a strategic planning workshop, you want to present a few slides but have valuable discussions on them, versus presenting the slides just to show you have done work. That is very critical. I would say these top 5 points would kill a strategy planning workshop.


If a partner is unable to build a compelling story, that’s okay, provided the engagement manager who is actually responsible for the ultimate storyboard in a real engagement builds a compelling story, which the partner can deliver. The bottom line someone needs to build a compelling story and someone needs to deliver it. It doesn’t matter who does that.


You cannot leave it to the client to decide the issues and priorities. Because if you’re leaving it to the client then all of the work you’re doing could change because the client could decide something that you haven’t prepared for. You need to decide the priorities, you need to decide the key decisions, you’ve got to find champions within the executive team, who are going to push for that in the strategic planning workshop. But you need to know what those priorities are before you arrive there.


If a strategic planning workshop gets bogged down in the technical specifics, it will fail. Think about the corporate strategy and transformation study, we are deciding whether to build nuclear power stations, coal power stations, gas stations, restructure transmission lines, deregulate generation lines. That can get very technical very fast. But this is a business workshop. If you’re getting to that level of technical detail you’re going to miss the implications. And we always worry about the implications. No one cares that this transmission line has a higher generating capacity or loss transfer rate. It doesn’t matter. All you have to say is, “look if we built this transmission line, we’re going to lose so much power. So we need to generate more power.” You need to keep it at that level of business implications.


The ninth and tenth point, it depends. It could be good or bad. If you change the agenda to meet a client’s concern that is important to the study, and you know it’s important to the study because it helps address the key question, you should do it. If that’s why you are introducing a concern and changing an agenda based on that concern. I’m okay with it. But if you’re making a change to an agenda just because you want to please a client and it doesn’t help the study, it could be a problem. You could be going down a path that pleases a client but it’s not good for the client.


You also need to have a metric for success. In every strategic planning workshop, unless it’s the final workshop, the metric of success is always narrowing the scope of work. If you go into a strategy workshop and the scope of work you have to do as a consulting firm, or an internal strategy unit for the company, is actually increasing you’ve ultimately failed at your strategic planning workshop. It’s a big, big, big issue. Because you’ve done analysis to eliminate things. So if we go into a strategic planning workshop and you come out with things not just not eliminated but you added in work that means you’ve ultimately failed in terms of prioritizing your scope of work.

These are the things you need to watch out for whether you are a consultant presenting to a client, whether you’re a partner presenting at a strategic planning workshop, or if you are leading the internal strategy team at a company and presenting to your executives.

If you want to see samples of our advanced training materials go to FIRMSconsulting.com/promo and sign up for free to receive sample materials.

Recommended books:

strategic planning. succeeding as a management consultantSucceeding as a Management Consultant

When people think about the business strategy we often think about the field of strategy consulting/management consulting and firms like McKinsey, BCG, et al. If you are interested in learning how to conduct a management consulting engagement, you will likely enjoy this book. Succeeding as a Management Consultant is a book set in the Brazilian interior. This book follows an engagement team as they assist Goldy, a large Brazilian gold miner, in diagnosing and fixing deep and persistent organizational issues. This book follows an engagement team over an 8-week assignment and explains how they successfully navigate a challenging client environment, develop hypotheses, build the analyses ,and provide the final recommendations. It is written so the reader may understand, follow ,and replicate the process. It is the only book laying out a consulting assignment step-by-step. (Published by FIRMSconsulting.) One of the best business books if you are interested in management consulting and strategy. This book will be very useful as well if you are a small business consultant. If you were searching for answers to questions about consulting, this book is a gold mine, according to many readers.

strategic planning. Marketing saves the worldMarketing Saves the World, Bill Matassoni’s Memoir 

Bill Matassoni’s (Ex-McKinsey and Ex-BCG Senior Partner) Marketing Saves The World is a truly unique book. Never before has a McKinsey partner published his memoir publicly. This book is a rare opportunity – a true exclusive – to see what shapes the thought process of a partner and learn about marketing and strategy. The memoir essentially lays out McKinsey’s competitive advantage and explains how it can be neutralized. (Published by FIRMSconsulting.) One of the best business books if you are interested in marketing, strategy, how McKinsey and BCG operate, and overall in management consulting.

strategic planning. Turquoise eyesTurquoise Eyes: A Novel about Problem Solving & Critical Thinking

Turquoise Eyes started off the groundbreaking new genre developed by FIRMSconsulting that combines compelling narrative while teaching problem solving and critical thinking skills. Set after a bank begins implementing a new retail banking strategy, we follow Teresa García Ramírez de Arroyo, a director general in the Mexican government, who has received some disturbing news. A whistleblower has emailed Teresa with troubling news about a mistake in the loan default calculations and reserve ratios. The numbers do not add up. The book loosely uses the logic and financial analyses in A Typical McKinsey Engagement, >270 videos.

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Cheers, Kris

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