Tag Archives: Strategic Planning



[NOTE: Leap Solutions Group is presenting a webinar for the California Special Districts Association on Tuesday, September 1, 10-10:30 am on the topic of virtual strategic planning. If you’d like to join us, here is the link to register for the webinar:

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, every day brings new information, concerns, and challenges regarding the spread of the virus, its economic and social impacts, and government directives. Leap Solutions remains dedicated to keeping you informed and empowered by delivering relevant, up-to-the-minute information and resources.

Our organizational development specialists are here to help support you with your online strategic planning, team development, executive coaching, training, program evaluation, and community engagement. Essentially, we can convert anything that you need in support of your business to a virtual experience. You still want to accomplish your plans, goals, and outcomes. We are here—virtually to help you achieve them.


In this issue of our newsletter we will cover:

  • Why strategically plan virtually?
  • What has changed in the virtual planning approach?
  • Questions about the virtual planning approach.
  • Are You Ready to Leap?

Why strategically plan virtually?

When the pandemic hit in mid-March, we were in the midst of numerous client strategic planning processes, with more about to start. Reaching out to our clients, we asked, “What are your thoughts regarding the next steps in the strategic planning process?” The answers ranged from Let’s put it on hold for a bit to Let’s move forward. However, how can we move forward in light of sheltering in place?

Great question, since every business in the world was struggling with how to complete work in progress or launch new business activities. Being Leap Solutions, we put on our solutions hat to dream up a virtual way to a strategic plan.

With the typical, in-person strategic planning process, we’d convene a group of our client’s leadership team to dream up the process, determine how to engage stakeholders, assess the environment scan (the tracking of internal and external trends and occurrences that bear on its success, currently and in the future), identify planning participants, set the planning timeline, and reach agreement on the scope of work. We followed this with numerous on-site planning team meetings, retreat facilitation, data collection and processing, values and mission reviewing, vision setting, priorities and goals identification, tactics focusing, and plan, document, and implementation map creation–all core activities to a living and implementable strategic plan.



What has changed in the virtual planning approach? 

  • What and How – Not the process but how Leap would accomplish this new approach.
  • Why – As we planned for the shift, we also discussed the why, as we considered the impact of the pandemic and whether a strategic or operational plan was needed.
  • When and Who – The when was all about the project timing, and the who dealt with the people available to support the planning process.
  • Where – The where, of course, was all virtual.

This initial conversation about the famous “W’s” and “H” was very strategic as well. Mid-March was not a great time for organizations to pick up or start their planning process, as businesses were focused on their employees, business sustainability, the viability of current strategies, and even survival. As the world moved into April and we became clearer on how government programs, such as the Payroll Protection Program and SBA emergency loans, could support business, our current and new clients responded with next-step questions.

Questions about the virtual planning approach.

The following are some of the top-of-mind questions we received, along with our answers. As consulting thought-leaders, we had to answer these great questions from our clients both creatively and with the mindset of a new frontier for strategic planning.


Should our planning be strategic or operational in light of the pandemic?

To answer this question, we asked a question back. What is the current state of your business and what, in your estimation, is the impact of the pandemic on your business strategies? For some, it was uncertainty and layoffs or furloughs with COVID impacts, for still others it hopefulness, emerging opportunities, and adapting old practices to new strategies. These were just a few of the responses. Based on the response, our guidance was to challenge the traditional mindset by asking if the pandemic was providing opportunities not yet understood. For instance, listening to our clients in early April, we heard of organizations changing their business model, moving from in-office to home office operations, reaching out to customers to understand their emerging needs and adapting services for them, and organizations exploring their current product or service offerings, and even adding new services. We saw clients implementing a quick adaption process being ready and adjusting rapidly. Readiness for planning determined if operational planning or strategic planning was best at the time. Some clients shifted to operational and put strategic planning on hold, while others did a combination. Impacts on their business model and readiness to shift, if needed, helped drive the planning approach.



What components of the scope of work need to be modified in the virtual planning approach?

Initially, we identified the timeline as the first component to discuss. We wanted to reach an agreement on whether or not a shift of timeline was needed due to urgency, availability of participants, and other business priorities.

We evaluated data gathering and analysis for the environmental scan to see if we could still utilize our intended approach: surveys, stakeholder interviews, World Cafés, and other information-gathering convenings. Our adaptable clients were intrigued by a virtual approach. While online surveys are not different in our new world, we could improve, stakeholder interviews with more people adapting to online meeting tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. With the stakeholder interviews in the non-COVID world, we’d typically arrange to meet them in their office or speak over the phone. In the COVID world, the improvements we discovered from an online meeting included a more intimate connection as the participants are in their homes, with time on their hands and a willingness to participate. And this type of connection there is a greater chance to engage as you get a better understanding of them and what is important to them. Stakeholder input is invaluable because they are most invested in the success of your organization with a strong interest in the outcomes and the impact in their lives.

The other challenge was conducting a World Café and seeing if we could address engagement with online meeting tools that allow for breakout rooms, polling, and other facilitation tools. We suggested online tools such as Groupmap to provide group discussion and instant recorded feedback (voice or data). We love that the Chat Room and video recording features help us retain and document our data. Automated data gathering helps immensely as we dissect and report on the data. World Cafés are very adaptable to the online environment with these tools, however, the dialogue is what shapes the data gathering as the tools are simply tools.

Within days, we found that all components of the planning scope of work could be adapted in the virtual world. Some processes, such as data gathering and participation levels, even improved as we quickly acknowledged and accepted that the barriers of an online experience due to the limitations to gather in person did not change the desired outcome.



As for stakeholder involvement, should we look at a smaller level of participation? What tools should we use? How will we get their feedback? How can we sustain their engagement?

The first question is how many stakeholders do you want to engage and at what level of active input? Are your stakeholders widely dispersed (even over time zones)? How do the identified stakeholders provide value to your planning process? What is the best outcome you can imagine from the stakeholder participation? These foundational questions allow you to set the stage to achieve your desired outcomes for stakeholder participation.

Once we know the conceptualize the stakeholder participation, we can assess the number of desired stakeholders. Smaller is not necessary, as with online tools it is fairly simple to engage a larger number of participants. Surveys and online interviews can easily be conducted. World Cafés require a larger time commitment but can be streamlined with online convening tools. In comparison with the logistics of an in-person gathering of stakeholders, the online tool logistics are less complicated for the organizer because your command center is your laptop or desktop and can be accomplished from anywhere without travel.

As outlined in the tools section below, there are a vast number of online tools you can use to gather stakeholder feedback. You can address a stakeholder’s familiarity with the online tool with pre-session workouts to acquaint them with the tool. To support the convening, you can appoint a co-facilitator or meeting producer whose role is to handle all the logistics of the online environment such as admitting participants to the meeting, monitoring the Chat Room, setting up and launching the breakout rooms, running the Powerpoint presentation, muting and unmuting, all to ensure a smooth, flawless meeting execution. While in session, the co-facilitator can even support the orientation to the online tools in real-time. This support role also includes troubleshooting, covering technical blimps (like your Internet service hiccupping), recording the session, and timekeeping. Even in large groups, such as the large community business group we participated in with over one hundred participants in the general session and breakout groups, the engagement can be very strong with the right tools, well managed.

While the online engagement can provide instant stakeholder feedback using such tools as polls, breakout rooms, and convening software, we also recommend post-session feedback, with verbal feedback at the end of the session or an online survey. The questions should be short, direct, and aligned with planning objectives. You want to respect the time commitment of stakeholders and make it easy for them to give feedback. Showing appreciation for their time as well as sending them post-meeting information are simple acts to value their time and contributions.

Finally, engagement is most dependent upon how you set up the interaction. Make it simple, easy, and rewarding. Less is more should be a driving principle to your engagement. Efficient questions, clear data, and accurate reporting reward your stakeholders for their participation. Again, in COVID, we are seeing a high level of willingness from stakeholders to participate and make a commitment to the process.

With one international, professional group, we see participants from many corners of the world, all managing to COVID and wanting a sense of community and interaction. Engagement is high and maintained through both small and large group participation. The breakout rooms of international colleagues have a common thread of people wanting to connect, share their experience, learn from others, and apply it to their environments. We find a high level of experiential learning and the willingness to try new things to support engagement.



Our priorities are shifting under COVID. Should we plan for this shift over the life cycle of the plan? Should we have a priority focused on COVID or a theme throughout? How can we reflect on a rapidly changing pandemic situation in our plan?

If we look into the crystal ball of our future, it would seem that our state of COVIDness is not going away anytime soon. Listening to the epidemiologist experts, this virus and the needed vaccine is 12-18 months in the making. It seems likely that it will be with us throughout 2021 and perhaps into 2022. We don’t know for sure. What we do know is its impact right now. Major companies have already announced work-from-home strategies for their workforce through the end of 2021. For your organization, the question of the impact of COVID over the life of your plan is important to address. We are currently recommending that organizations consider it a major environmental impact that will affect the organization for at least two years, and should be a component of the plan over the plan duration.

During the priority and goal identification of the strategic plan, COVID should inform the planning. For instance, if you are exploring how to drive your business development or new product/service offerings, you should consider the impacts of COVID. Are you seeking new customers or do you want to secure more business from existing customers? What are the unique opportunities due to COVID? What are the limiting factors? What innovative approaches can you consider? One of our clients was reviewing the state of their plan one year into its implementation. The client was wondering how to secure new business. We discussed innovative, creative solutions such as hosting webinars on the topic of best practices in their industry and how they are applying those practices to projects that need modifying due to COVID protocols. Another client who is in the midst of their strategic plan determined that marketing and communications need a higher profile because the audience they serve is a group of high school students and without the student presence in the classroom, outreach is more difficult. They are exploring online convenings to hold information meetings about services, engage with school counselors, and ensure the students know they are here to help.

Another topic was team retention and engagement during the shelter in place. To help our clients, we analyzed past team engagement activities and looked at adapting them to online. These discussions evolved into the incorporation of COVID realities into their living strategic plan over the next two years. The bottom line: it is best to integrate COVID into all aspects of your current strategic as well as operational plans.



What tools are available to conduct the planning process with a dispersed and virtual team?

As teams adapt to the virtual, online planning environment, available tools are prolific. Online group facilitation and convening tools have existed for years. Leap has used Facilitate.com for many years to convene large and small groups to build consensus and drive business decisions. Groupmap is another example of a convening tool. No matter the tool, the concept is the same: state a question, gather input, theme ideas, prioritize ideas, and reach consensus. Online tools also allow for onscreen and offscreen chats, breakout rooms, polling, and whiteboards. Google Jamboard is a collaborative digital whiteboard that allows a group to deep dive into a concept in real-time. You can use it as an online post-it note brainstorming tool, as well as to reach a consensus on ideas.  A key to success with the many tools available is to master the tool and train participants in how to best use it for their planning process.

With the foundation of an online interactive program such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, the complimentary tools support the group dynamics of in-person gatherings. While technology can be a barrier for some participants less savvy with online experiences, pre-meeting workouts with participants can address the barriers. Helping all team members feel comfortable with the tools reduces the technology bias and can even up the participation field.



Can we still finish this plan within our desired timeframe?

The answer clearly moved to YES that we could accomplish the planning process in the desired timeline.

With the plan participants working remotely, we found that scheduling the meetings is much easier, particularly when we have the scope of work and planning timeline well defined. It allows the client’s team to set all the convening dates in advance and sketch out their planning assignments between meetings.

The planning schedule can work best with up to two-hour meeting blocks. As the facilitator, Leap manages the agenda, runs the meeting convening software, takes notes, keeps to the timed agenda, and ensures all team members are participating in the process. We have also learned that reaching the timeline goal means scheduling the planning meeting every two weeks, which allows for the planning assignment to be completed between meetings.

We have been conducting strategic planning processes for nonprofit and special district organizations during the pandemic. When working with a group of volunteers, the learnings have been very similar in how the planning is accomplished. As volunteers are employed or even active retirees, they appreciate a set, consistent time to convene, along with a well-defined agenda to ensure progress. When we planned the approach with one nonprofit, we had initially planned for a one-day retreat to launch and execute most of the planning activities. Then COVID-19 interrupted this concept and we moved to four two-hour online convenings, with a shorter retreat at the end of the process. Another client moved to seven two-hour meetings, followed by two short retreats to present and then finalize the plan.



Are You Ready to Leap?

Now is the time to strategically plan virtually. Not to plan is to allow life to just happen and to respond reactively. Moving the process virtually requires additional planning and a shifting of the logistics, but the outcomes match what we can accomplish with in-person planning. Think about shifting your planning process to the online world. Are you ready to Leap?



Leap Solutions is a diverse group of highly skilled management, organizational development, and human resources, and executive search and recruitment professionals who have spent decades doing what we feel passionate about helping you feel passionate about what you do. Our HR specialists can help you get a handle on the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines, programs, and legislation that may impact you and your employees. We are available to work with you to develop practical solutions and smart planning decisions for your organization’s immediate, near, and long-term needs.

To print this article, click here



During the current COVID-19 pandemic, every day brings new information, concerns, and challenges regarding the spread of the virus, its economic and social impacts, and government directives. Leap Solutions remains dedicated to keeping you informed and empowered by delivering relevant, up-to-the-minute information and resources.

Our organizational development specialists are here to help support you with your online strategic planning, team development, executive coaching, training, program evaluation, and community engagement. Essentially, anything that you need in support of your business can be converted to a virtual experience. You still want to accomplish your plans, goals, and outcomes. We are here to help you achieve it–virtually.


In this issue of our newsletter we will cover:

  • How we are gathering in a virtual world
  • The learning curve of the virtual world
  • Core learning about the virtual convening world
  • Top 10 Learnings from convening in the virtual world
  • Share your learnings with us – Quick survey link

 Welcome to COVID-19 and sheltering in place. In the blink of an eye, we moved from the physical world to the virtual world. What at one time might have taken decades to impact how we as humans connect, communicate, innovate, and plan, we transformed overnight. Without much thought, training, or tool development, we went online and virtual for just about everything we do. We made a significant pivot as a world.

How we are gathering in a virtual world

In the COVID life, the range of our virtual human experiences has included online marriages, memorial services, community gatherings, graduations, family celebrations, and friends cooking or enjoying Happy Hours. On the business side, with a vast majority of that world working from home, much has changed. What traditionally convened in person has moved to virtual engagement.  Prominent examples include conventions, conferences, planning sessions, team building, internships, training, and recruiting. During a recent client team strengthening engagement, Leap Solutions worked remotely with a director and the vice president to complete a 360 Leadership Competency review and action plan to support the director’s team and professional leadership development.

While the physical manifestations of humans in the same room together have changed, you will hear from participants that the outcomes are better. People are still achieving their personal and professional goals and inspiring others to greatness.   Instead of seeing the coronavirus pandemic as limiting, people have adapted their tools with technology to identify priorities, set direction, and re-evaluate perspectives.   A Leap Solutions client was struggling with how to adjust their short and long-term plans in light of the COVID pandemic. They convened their board and community thought leaders to understand the current climate and project the longer-term view. Over a series of two-hour virtual meetings, they discussed, evaluated, and shifted the short and long-term plans. What would most likely have taken up to six months of in-person meetings, they accomplished in three, two-hour virtual convenings.


The learning curve

The learning curve of the virtual world for many has evolved around muting/unmuting, ensuring the camera is on, finding the perfect camera angle (although, we’ve all seen plenty of participants from the nose and forehead up), asking, “Can you hear me?” or exclaiming, “I can’t get this darn camera to work.” Rather simple learnings really. As a couple of financial planners shared recently, their non-tech-focused clients have readily adapted to conducting their annual financial review virtually. Clients have commented on how much they enjoy virtual meetings and find the meetings to be more productive and shorter than in-person meetings. Productive, efficient, timely, and effective… amazing results.  It appears everyone has accepted the technology and adapted quickly.


Core learnings in the virtual world

Considering the rapid adoption and compliance rate, what are we learning so far about the virtual convening world?

  • People adapt quickly when the desire outweighs the potential complexity of technology.
  • Human interaction, while best done in person, can be very satisfying virtually.
  • Individual, government, and business systems can quickly establish a productive rhythm and accomplish much.
  • Technology is a tool, not a barrier.
  • Our virtual experience is significantly changing our perspective on how we engage, connect, and conduct our business.
  • The virtual experience lends itself to more fully understanding people since we view them in their environments, their homes.

Leap Solutions’ experience with virtual engagement has involved supporting clients with strategic planning, board, and team-building retreats, executive coaching, executive searches and recruitments, human resource function reviews, training, program evaluation, government advisory councils, and professional development. Essentially, everything Leap Solutions Group once provided at client sites, in board rooms, and community gatherings have moved to the virtual experience. We realized quickly that our clients still wanted to achieve their goals and remain on target during COVID-19 restrictions. One community-based group had launched its strategic planning process in January 2020. When COVID shut down in-person meetings, the planning process was impacted, and we switched quickly to virtual meetings. Collaborating online, we worked together in one-hour increments, had a few sub-group virtual gatherings, and met the planning timeline. The plan was delivered to the board in June.  Throughout this process, Leap Solutions has kept a few steps ahead of our clients to support their needs–and they have adapted.

Top 10 learnings in the virtual world

What are our Top 10 learnings from this experience?

(1) Tools to convene: while there are many online tools available to convene, most function similarly. We recommend a one-on-one practice connection before the online engagement, to support anyone needing a technology consult. One client recommended to committee members that they connect a few days ahead of the first virtual convening to “practice” their sign-on and system needs. Once used, the technology is just like riding a bike – hop on and get going

(2) Agreements to structure and approaches: to best support the online engagement, we developed online protocols, “Zoomstructions,” to agree on such things as muted unless speaking, check camera angles, virtual hand raising to speak, allowing video, using features like whiteboards or breakout rooms.

(3) Experiment, evaluate, experiment, adjust: try something, evaluate, adjust, try it again, evaluate, and adjust. It sounds simple–and it works. We asked participants to share their experience, we listened and we made changes. One core learning in the early online experience was to add a convening break about halfway through for any session that lasted two hours or more. If you need a four-hour gathering, a lunch break is a great way to split the meeting.

(4) Creative engagement techniques are still valuable tools: ice-breakers and team-building activities encourage all virtual participants to be a part of the convening. They are fun, connect the group, and bring all voices into the online system. One team used a tool known as the Design Team Alliance to talk through how they wanted to be in relationship while convening virtually. They identified such concepts as respectful listening, questioning the topic and not the person, building trust with online tools, learning the capabilities of online convening apps (Zoom, Microsoft Teams) and teaching others, and being fully present during the meeting (no multi-tasking). Think of creative ways that are appropriate for the convening group to engage such as small breakout groups, a short trivia game, how to change your screen name to identify your alter ego, or group polling on a staging, meeting launch question. Be brave, be creative.

(5) Participation is HIGH: Wow, this was a core learning. With so many people with time on their hands, it was much easier to agree upon a meeting date and time.

(6) Outcomes are amazing and Productivity is UP: the core learning is getting more done in less time with better results. In asking participants as well as other online conveners, we learned people feel more productive, engaged, participatory. And after the virtual meetings, they feel a great sense of accomplishment. One client used smaller, more intimate breakout groups that met virtually to work through the priorities of the strategic plan and outline goals and tactics. They accomplished their work in two, 1-hour virtual meetings.

(7) Time saved by Remaining in Place: Not traveling to meetings has been identified by many of our clients and meeting participants as a true gift from virtual convenings; it can turn a two-hour meeting commitment to one hour. We’ve heard from many business leaders that travel in the post-COVID world will be changed and much will continue to be accomplished via virtual meetings. One colleague who pre-COVID spent a portion of each week traveling nationwide indicates their travel frequency will be about 25% of what it used to be. Imagine their productivity and work-life balance impacts.

(8) Engagement is strong: Online participants show up ready to share their ideas, add to the conversation, speak up, and collaborate with others. We have participated in several international professional development opportunities in the last few months, engaging with people from Dubai, Singapore, Turkey, Italy, Mexico, and many other locations. It is easy to join and share perspectives no matter where you live–as long as you don’t mind the odd time-zone hours.

(9) Clients are innovating and inspiring new approaches and solutions: give a problem to clients and the solutions are quickly evident. We found initially that some clients wanted to put off their work, hoping we’d be able to convene in person sooner rather than later. However, shelter-in-place fatigue moved people from the couch to their home office quickly, and the online convening solutions were suggested, tested, and activated. The only boundary was dreaming up a solution that would enable a wide-swath of participation, engagement, and desired outcomes. For instance, we found brainstorming moved quickly with participants exploring or hovering around ideas, instead of vying over competing ideas. The brainstorming is focused, without side chats (it is harder to speak to your seatmate when you are located miles apart). Multi-tasking, which can be enabled during conference calls, is difficult to do when everyone can see you on screen. After all, all eyes are virtually on you.

(10) Feedback for conveners and facilitators is important for improving the process and outcomes: the feedback loop improves the outcome every time. For instance, implementing the session break made a lot of sense and felt like a “duh” when suggested. It supported a better level of engagement and outcomes. We also have heard that the virtual meeting room is safe, open, equitable, and less focused on roles or positions. Participants feel important and actively engaged. Another key learning, there is no front of the room, head table, or another power positioning in the virtual room.


Share your learnings with us via a quick SurveyMonkey

We’d love to hear from our readers about what they have learned from the virtual-world- convening they have conducted or participated in. We’ve set up a SurveyMonkey link for you to provide your input. Click here to participate in the short survey.

One of our favorite authors Max De Pree (“Leadership is an Art”) said, “We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” In the virtual convening world, we are becoming a better version of ourselves by adapting quickly to stay engaged, alive, and reaching our goals.




Leap Solutions is a diverse group of highly skilled management, organizational development, and human resources, and executive search and recruitment professionals who have spent decades doing what we feel passionate about helping you feel passionate about what you do. Our HR specialists can help you get a handle on the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines, programs, and legislation that may impact you and your employees. We are available to work with you to develop practical solutions and smart planning decisions for your organization’s immediate, near, and long-term needs.


To print this article, click here