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3 strategic planning tips from a college professor

Oct 25, 2017

This fall marked my 10th... yup, you read that right... 10th year as a professor of advertising, public relations and communications.

Back in my first semester of teaching, I took a professional development workshop that would shape my career more than I could have possibly imagined. For 12 weeks, we came together every Wednesday to learn about learning. We talked about pedagogy, classroom management techniques and learning styles, among other things.

I thought I was learning about how to be a college professor. Really, I was learning how to facilitate engagement and education with groups of people. As I've grown in my skills and career over the past decade, I have called on those pedagogical skills time and again to help me in strategic planning for clients, boards, volunteer groups, and even my own agency.

This week, I'll be facilitating two client strategic planning sessions ('tis the season), which got me to thinking about how often I draw upon those classroom lessons to help me help others guide their organizations and, ultimately, make a greater impact in our world. Here are my top lessons from the classroom and how I apply them to strategic planning.

Be inclusive of different learning styles

Different people learn differently. In strategic planning, so often it's small groups and sticky notes, followed by the groan-worthy "group reporting out" portion of the show. And while this approach works very well for some learning styles or personalities (here's looking at you DiSC Ds), it's not so fantastic for others <ahem, INTJs>. Use activities that are inclusive to different learning -- and sharing -- styles. Collect written and individual feedback. Use talking sticks to ensure no one person dominates the conversation. Create pairs in addition to small groups. Get creative to help people get creative.

Pay attention to directions

One of the five principles of pedagogy is direction of activity, meaning students need clear, concise directions that multiple different learning styles will be able to follow. In strategic planning and facilitation, clear directions can make or break whether or not people feel comfortable enough to share. It can also waste valuable time if people don't have the information they need to dive right in to an activity. Don't assume that because instructions are clear to you, they're clear to everyone. Always have someone else test your instructions for you, and present those instructions in a way multiple learning styles can access (see above) including written and oral. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, so use several different solutions.

Recognize nobody wants to be there

"Are you actually taking notes on your laptop, or playing on Facebook?" It's the college professor's constant struggle -- feeling like students are disengaged or would rather be elsewhere. Competing with their devices or distractions for their attention. Some days, strategic planning feels the same. "You need me to give up HOW much time away from my <work... office... family...>?" There's rarely a convenient time to do strategic planning, yet without it, we falter. But as a facilitator, you've gotta recognize that most people are rolling in to strategic planning thinking about how they wish they were somewhere else. Even those who recognize its importance are rarely REALLY EXCITED to be there. So meet people where they're at. Use humor to break the ice. Thank people for being there. Respect people's time and stick to the schedule they expect. 

And do your damndest to plan a valuable, meaningful, intentional experience for people that will lead to results.

Tags: strategic planning, PR strategy

Kate Snyder, APR

Kate Snyder, APR

Kate Snyder focuses her head and heart on creating communication that makes our world better for everyone. She is dedicated to uplifting women in business, she’s a passionate advocate for the arts, and she makes it her mission to ensure those without a microphone are heard loud and clear.

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