JV Wong -

One reason why I love what I do in People Ignite is because I get the opportunity to understand and see the perspectives of leaders each time we would facilitate strategic business planning sessions. Now that we are in the spirit of the year 2015, we need to really step back, reflect and create our moving-forward plans. As a planning facilitator, I try my best to practice these 3 roles each time I collaborate with business leaders: LISTEN, UNDERSTAND, GUIDE.

Listening is a basic skill we have been taught to do since our primary years, and yet, it’s one skill we still try to master as adults (It’s not that easy, after all!). I am literally given two big ears and I consider them as my asset in order to facilitate relevantly. I need to listen to milestones, pain points, and dreams. I need to listen to what the leaders desire to have for their enterprises and for their people. I have to listen to the wounds of their past, to the challenges of the present, and to the possibilities of their future. I love listening. Aside from listening, I also need to have a deeper understanding of the things around me: I need to understand WHY they do what they do, WHY they want to introduce this change, WHY they make life-and-game-changing decisions, WHY they can’t sleep at night as they ponder about daily business concerns. It’s one thing to listen, but it’s equally important to understand them. One cannot guide if one does not understand. Some of you may have had opportunities to facilitate business meetings and planning sessions, and so we immediately see eye-to-eye when I say that we can only guide business leaders if we know where they are coming from, what their direction is, and what they dream to have in the short, mid, and long-term timeframe.

In this article, we will discuss the 3 critical roles, which we need to master if and when we need to facilitate strategic business planning sessions for our organizations. 1. We listen more than we talk, 2. We understand the dynamics of the business and its culture. From there, that’s the only and best time we can 3. guide our stockholders, leaders, employees, business partners, and customers towards making sound decisions.

WE NEED TO LISTEN IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND. I am frequently guided by the legacy work of Kaplan-Norton’s Strategy Map and Balanced Score Card (BSC) when I facilitate planning workshops. For those who are familiar with the strategy map model, this model uses the 4 perspectives in any business or organization: Financial, Customer, Internal Process, and Learning and Growth (Top to Bottom style when we are planning). The Financial Perspective: Generally, the stockholders and EXECOM, with the help of their CFO take care of this perspective. They discuss both productivity and growth strategies. They brainstorm on their cost structure improvements, asset use, revenue opportunities, and how else their business can enhance customer value. This perspective wears the helicopter hat of growing the revenue of the business.

The Customer Perspective: Obviously, the sales and marketing groups drive the strategy development of this perspective. They touch base on the following aspects: product, price, place, promotion (4Ps of marketing), availability, selection, functionality, service orientation, even partnership and branding. Ultimately, this perspective covers how the business would be able to deliver customer experience.

The Internal Process Perspective: This is a big interest for people in the operations and support groups whose primary focus is operational excellence. This perspective covers four facets: Operations effectiveness, customer management, innovation process and even regulatory and social protocols. The internal process is a critical aspect of the strategy map because it can spell the difference between a well-executed operational plan and a lousy one. Last in the perspective (but totally not the least here) is the Learning and Growth Perspective: HR is at the core, along with other support groups like IT, Office of Strategic Management, and of course, our core leadership team. WHY? This is the perspective that ensures the health of our employees, an inspiring culture, and a purpose-centric organization.

I mentioned earlier that when it is planning mode, we begin from the TOP – financial view and then flow naturally to the other perspectives. In the work environment world however, execution is from bottom to top! The HR, who sits at the heart of the Learning and Growth Perspective, needs to do everything in its power to ensure that the Human Capital, Information/Systems Capital and Leadership Capital are ready for the action.

I believe that the Learning and Growth Perspective creates the undercurrent of the organization, which can either propel or pull everyone down. With this mindset in mind, both the leaders and HR now become the core drivers of culture made up of passionate and purpose-oriented people.

By LISTENING to the pulse of the business, leaders, and employees, we would be able to facilitate business directions and plans better. By listening, we can validates and cement the business interventions through a strategy map.

As we listen more, this particular skill of facilitation will allow us to cull out the current state, aspired state and the critical gaps of the organization. From every employee, to teams and all the way to capturing the pulse of the organization, we as business planning facilitators must know the answers to the WHY, HOW, and WHAT:

  • Why are we doing what we are doing
  • How do we create impact to one another
  • What contribution do we want to give back to the society
As Simon Sinek, the inventor of the fundamentally effective THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, good companies ask the WHATs and the HOWs but GREAT companies create their strategies based on their WHYs. We need to really reflect on our purpose and reason for business existence. We can listen, and yet do not fully understand. If we do not understand, then we cannot do the next one.

I observe that there are some HR leaders and managers during business strategic planning sessions that would naturally take a back seat when their leaders are on top of things, driving decisions, and sealing strategies. Though we give the “highway” to our leaders when they do this, I believe that deep in the hearts of our business owners and drivers, they are hungry for their HR leaders and people managers to assertively speak up, compellingly share their viewpoints, and take a firm stand on what is right and what is relevant for the organization. In fact, I recall a business owner who told his HR Head to stop being too nice, and start being genuinely courageous and direct in talking straight to her EXECOM. Being too nice because of hierarchy may be fit in the 70s or even in the 80s, but our present generation requires our HR being bold and brave drivers of people and business.

As facilitators, we need to guide them to the appropriate path through planning tools and fresh insights, which would trigger our leaders to reflect, analyze, assess, and align. Through our ability to facilitate insights and direction, I associate facilitators like that of a BRIDGE: we help leaders get there.

Through listening, understanding and guiding our leaders discover their true north star and purpose, we are able to help the organization develop plans that will contribute beyond business revenue targets. We are able to help them discover WHY the business exists, HOW will we help them get there, and WHAT will be the legacy they will create and leave behind.

About JV Wong:

  • President and Chief Executive Igniter of People Ignite for 13 years
  • Speaker, facilitator and writer on aspects of purpose development, vision-mission-values creation, strategic business planning workshops, leadership, and communication
  • Master Trainer of the International Communications Program “Think On Your Feet®”, which is present in 30 countries with 10 language translations.
  • Loves to read, cook and travel with her family.