The blinding acceleration of artificial intelligence, a whacky economy, social upheaval, annual 100-year storms, and red-hot global tensions—is it any surprise that instability is being internalized as the new normal? 

If you thought you had a lot of decisions to make during the pandemic, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. The next five years could be the most challenging you’ll experience as a professional. As part of their strategic planning process, AEC industry firm leaders will need to make a myriad of decisions, such as which services to grow, which markets to exit, how to partner with technology, and so on. 

With so many critical choices confronting your architecture, engineering, or environmental consulting firm, you’d better get better at deciding.

Here’s How to Make the Strategic Planning Process More Effective

Even in the most collaborative strategic planning process, discussions are often more about advocacy than inquiry when decisions about a firm’s future are being weighed. Instead of sharing ideas, improving them, and collectively deciding on a path to pursue, people are out to win. 

Think about the meetings in your own firm—when ideas are thrown on the table, is it the best idea that wins the day or the strongest advocate? When it’s the latter, the outcome is inevitably the lousy execution of a poor decision.

Productive discussions are conversations found smack dab in the middle of advocacy and inquiry. They are among the most important steps for strategic planning and result in the group coming to some sort of closure, such as achieving alignment around a vision statement, making the decision to recapitalize, or prioritizing the opening of a branch office in one city over another. Through effective discussions, the group learns to put its thinking on display, draw out and test assumptions, and examine the reasons for disagreement. 

Like anything, practice improves quality. In this case, it’s thinking and interaction that develop. 

To ensure productive discussions and make smarter decisions as part of the strategic planning process, focus on these five items:

  • Yourself
  • The happy place between advocacy and inquiry
  • Vocabulary
  • Self-discipline
  • Stalemates

1. Yourself 

To facilitate more constructive conversations in the strategic planning process, the first place to look is inward. Become increasingly self-aware of the outcomes you want to achieve in the discussion and notice how those goals affect the following:

  • What you think and say
  • How you listen 
  • What, if anything, that triggers you 
  • Your tone 
  • Your disposition when people agree and disagree with your ideas and proposals

2. The happy place between advocacy and inquiry 

Too often in the strategic planning process, executives challenge each other’s ideas to position themselves in one way or another. They are not sincere challenges—especially when they are inconsequential—which often results in the conversation turning into an argument. 

Purposeful challenging is an examination of assumptions and the thinking behind them. Being heavy-handed with advocacy leads to misunderstandings, miscommunication, ungrounded assessments, and unsound decisions.

3. Vocabulary 

How many times have you shared a thought or made a request when you could not have been clearer, yet you were entirely misunderstood? 

Join the club. It happens to all of us. 

Words and phrases that mean something specific to you can represent something much different to others. There can be seemingly endless interpretations of what we think has a single, obvious meaning. In productive discussions, people confirm the meaning of words and phrases. But since discussions are often rushed, people end up using language in a sloppy or thoughtless way. 

For a variety of reasons, the conversations roll on without anyone calling a timeout to confirm the meaning of what’s being communicated, and the team disperses with a tenuous grasp of what was just decided, agreed upon, or discussed. Or worse, they might have completely misunderstood what transpired and taken any number of counterproductive actions as a result.

4. Self-discipline

Conversations around the boardroom table can sometimes get tense. When your passion gets the better of you and you feel your blood pressure rising, step out of the batter’s box and ask yourself the following:

  • What’s going through my head?
  • What emotions am I experiencing, and how are they affecting me?
  • What do I want right now?

When you practice that kind of self-discipline as part of the strategic planning process, you will begin to make discoveries about your own assumptions and possibly those of the group, which you can then address: “You know, this direction you are advocating implies an assumption about our marketing strategy, so let’s explore that assumption,” or, “When you say that we should move into that region, I find myself becoming concerned because of the demographic shift we’ve been observing in that area,” etc. 

By giving the reasons for your concern, you invite the group to help you test your own assumptions and open your mind to the possibilities.

5. Stalemates 

Agreeing to disagree is not closure, so figure out what the group agrees on and what they don’t agree on. Then, identify the source of the disagreement. Usually, the disagreement will revolve around one or more of the following:

  • Data and facts: What’s real and accurate, and what isn’t?
  • Goals: What are we trying to accomplish?  
  • Methodologies: How should we accomplish it? 
  • Values: Why do we think we have to be, act, and do things a certain way, and why do we believe what we believe?

Helping the group to discover the source of disagreement can go a long way in getting everyone unstuck and moving the strategic planning process in a positive direction.

Morrissey Goodale Can Help Your Firm Make Better Strategic Planning Decisions 

Morrissey Goodale is the trusted strategic business planning advisor to many of the most successful architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting firms.

Whether it’s developing strategies for recruiting and retaining great people, modernizing your thinking about data and AI as technology relentlessly advances, or preparing for whatever economic conditions your firm will face, Morrissey Goodale is devoted to helping AEC industry firms like yours create the competitive advantages necessary for achieving long-term success.

With deep knowledge of the AEC industry, Morrissey Goodale’s consultants have facilitated hundreds of strategic business planning retreats for architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting firms. Our expert facilitators lead energizing, forward-looking, and productive AEC strategy sessions and guide discussions that improve firmwide decision-making. We partner with firms through all the steps for strategic planning to maintain the momentum and turn the plan into reality. 

Contact us today to find out how Morrissey Goodale can help your architecture, engineering, or environmental consulting firm with your strategic planning process.

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