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5 Tips for better strategic planning meetings
Episode 7314th July 2022 • Finding Gravitas • Jan Griffiths
00:00:00 00:22:47

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5 Tips for Better Strategic Planning Meetings With Jan Griffiths, President and Co-Founder of Gravitas Detroit

Episode Description

Strategic planning is traditionally a dreaded affair. Days of meaningless corporate speak and internal competition usually fail to result in something inspiring or exciting that a team can get behind.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In this episode of Finding Gravitas, Jan shares her top five tips on how to break the bygone corporate mold so you’re prepared to authentically lead your next strategic planning meeting.

Episode Summary 

When we think of strategic planning, our mind likely conjures images of dull conference rooms and PowerPoint presentations loaded with meaningless corporate phrases. And then there’s all the politics and the gamesmanship — the atmosphere of competition in the room speaks volumes. 

At the end of the day, you may come away with strategic goals to “improve revenue and profitability” or “diversify your customer portfolio.” But what does that even mean?

“This is supposed to be a strategy meeting, where you're outside of the day-to-day, you're not in the weeds, you're thinking onward and upward. And you're thinking about where to take this company next. That's what strategy meetings are for,” says host and founder of Gravitas Detroit Jan Griffiths.

The truth is, we’re still trying to fit this mold of a bygone corporate age that just doesn’t work. When the people in the room are too afraid to be judged for proposing a potentially great idea, the creativity and innovation we hope will come from strategic planning is subdued.

The automotive industry is never going to meet lofty goals of moving toward more electric and autonomous vehicles if we keep running strategy meetings like this. “It's time to step up and change this process to imagine what it could look like in an authentic leadership culture,” Jan says. Yes, strategic planning meetings can be rewarding, exciting and inspiring for you and your team. And they should be.

In this solo episode of Finding Gravitas, Jan shares her five biggest pieces of wisdom for how to improve your approach to strategic planning and rally a team around your goals. 

Themes discussed on this episode: 

  • How traditional strategic planning slows innovation
  • Choosing an inspiring meeting venue
  • Why corporate language doesn’t make you work smarter
  • How to rally support around new strategic objectives
  • The virtues of “positive accountability” 
  • Why you should make time to dream big about future

Featured Expert: Jan Griffiths (Host)

📽️ What she does: Jan is the co-founder and president of Gravitas Detroit, an organization dedicated to cultivating authentic leadership by providing courses, workshops, speaking events and more. She is also the host of the Finding Gravitas podcast.

Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show

[4:32] The grace of Steve Kiefer: The mission of this podcast is to drive a more authentic version of leadership in the automotive industry. Jan’s prior guest, Steve Kiefer of General Motors, embodied that mission by offering his time to come on the show.

[7:52] The dread of strategic planning: None of us look forward to the politics and competition that mark strategic planning. What are the consequences of this competitive environment on yourself and your company?

[11:33] Strategic planning — what is it good for?: Let’s be real: the outcomes of these meetings are often broad strategic projects rife with corporate speak, not the exciting, forward-looking planning we all hope for. It’s time to break that mold and create a process that will actually help us progress. 

[14:17] Go off site: If you want your team members to feel excited about strategic planning, your everyday conference room is not the place to do it. Find a venue that inspires energy, where you can feel the innovation in the room — not a hotel conference room.

[16:46] Imagine a bright future: YouTube didn’t reach a million views per day until well into its life cycle. Now, it’s our go-to platform for videos. Don’t be afraid to spend the time — yes, unstructured time — imagining what the future could be like.

[18:37] Develop a solid ‘why’: You can’t develop a strong mission and set of objectives — and a rallying cry around those objectives — without a strong ‘why.’

[20:22] Put yourself on the top of the mountain: If you’re going to succeed with your strategic plans, you have to picture what it looks or feels like when you’re there.

[22:22] Get clear: You can’t mobilize your team around your mission with corporate speak because not everybody speaks corporate. Stop trying to fit the mold and keep it simple.

[24:00] Hold yourself accountable: It’s one thing to establish your strategic objectives; now you have to communicate them, rally people around them, and follow through on your promises. Tune into the next episode to learn about how “positive accountability” can help you accomplish that.

Top quotes

[13:44] “In automotive, we talk about EVs and autonomous driving and the fact that we need to change. And we love that California culture, the tech culture. But if we keep running strategy meetings like this, we're never going to get there, we're never going to get the process that we want. It's time to step up and change this process to imagine what it could look like in an authentic leadership culture. ” 

[17:16] “We need breakthrough, groundbreaking, moonshot type ideas in this meeting. We cannot stay in this mold of incremental steps of improvement, 5% improvement on this, 10% improvement on that. No — be bold, think big. Get rid of the constraints in your thinking. Banish the fear in the room, the fear of judgment and the fear of failure. ”

[21:19] “Wayne Gretzky doesn't play to where the puck is; he plays to where the puck is going to be. But you have to be able to visualize that emotionally, physically, you have to think about it.”

[22:55] “Your mission as a leader is to develop the strategic plans for the company and then mobilize an army around them. And you can't do that with corporate speak, because corporate speak is too vague and not everybody speaks it — they all have different interpretations.”



Welcome to the Finding Gravitas podcast. It's time to stop trying to fit someone else's mold and step into the world of authentic leadership. Connect with that irresistible force that is gravitas. Your host, Jan Griffiths will guide you through an exploration into exactly what this elusive quality means and how you can get it. Now, let's join Jan on the quest for Gravitas.

Jan Griffiths:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Finding Gravitas Podcast. Today is a solo episode, and I'll be covering my reflections on the Steve Kiefer episode. The last episode we recorded with Dave Andrea, on supplier relationships in the automotive industry. And then the real meat of this episode, we're going to talk about strategic planning. Oh, yes, we are. It's that time for many of us. And it doesn't have to be awful. It just doesn't. It doesn't have to be that painful experience where you feel locked in a conference room for days on end. I'll share five tips to make it better, I promise it can be a better experience. So let's get into it, shall we? You know, I'm often asked how I select my guests? And the answer is very, very carefully. I'm frequently bombarded with guest requests from PR agencies, authors wanting to promote their books. And there are actually companies out there that act as podcast guest agents, I don't use any of them. I have to protect you, my audience, my community, my people. And I have to make sure that the content is providing value to you. Otherwise, why would you listen? Why would you devote some of the most precious possessions that we have in our lifetime? Which is our time and attention and our energy? Why would you do that if there was no value to you, and the guest, and the content has to support the mission. And if you forgotten what the mission is of this podcast, it's to end the rule of command and control in the auto industry, and drive a more authentic leadership model. So that we can create an automotive industry culture where people can thrive and feel good about what they do. And if the guests and the content don't contribute to that, then it's not happening.

Jan Griffiths:

So how do I select my guests? I reach out to them directly. And I explain why I believe their message is in line with a mission and why they should be on the show. It's not just hey, you know, Steve Kiefer want to be on my show. No, there's got to be a reason is you've got to explain the why. And if I don't know the person directly, sometimes I'll just reach out cold and sometimes I'll work with my network to help make that happen. Back to Steve. Steve was the former global VP of purchasing and supply chain for General Motors, high level guest, lot of celebrity attached to him, you know, great network.

Jan Griffiths:

He had absolutely nothing to gain personally by being on the show. He didn't need the exposure. It doesn't need anything to enhance his personal brand or his professional brand. He's all he's already got that in spades. He's not trying to promote a corporate message or drive a corporate agenda. No, he did it. He did it because he cares deeply about the auto industry. He believes in the power of strong business relationships, particularly at the OEM to supplier level. And he gave selflessly of himself his time in his energy to produce the episode to share his perspective on this very important subject. In my book, that type of selfless act shows character, integrity, and real authentic leadership at both the personal and professional level. So my reflections on the grace of Steve Kiefer, okay, back to the mission of this episode, it's time to talk about strategic planning. Are you excited? Are you excited? These two words never excited me much in the corporate world. Well, not ever really never. It meant days locked in a conference room with lots of PowerPoint presentations. Trying to find out exactly what the boss wanted and trying desperately hard to stay aligned with. That sounds easy, right? Yeah. it right you and I both know it's not. And let's not forget all the politics and gamesmanship going on in that room, people trying to make themselves look good by making others look bad holding and hiding information and then yielding it like a Star Wars lightsaber at the most opportunistic time. And then all those side conversations and whispers, and then there's that point where you just can't take it anymore. So you look intently at your phone, you grab your phone, pretending to be focused on some critical business issue. But really, you're checking Facebook, LinkedIn, or your personal email, I know I've been there. The body language in that room speaks volumes, doesn't it? About the power play in the room. There's the eye rolling, when the guy who's not in favor is speaking. And everybody's there's this like, sigh and the eye roll. And then, the disinterested push away from the table stand, the closed body, arms wrapped stance, and then the outside the circle walker. You know, that guy, the guy that walks outside the circle, because that's some kind of a power move, isn't it. And let's not forget the guy, or girl, but in my experience has typically been the guy who likes to show everyone how important it is because he has to leave the room to make a call on a critical, confidential issue, because he's just that important. Really, maybe you have a groundbreaking moonshot idea. But you keep it to yourself, right? Because you're afraid of judgment. You don't want to be ridiculed by the group, you're afraid of putting your voice out there. I will admit, I've been that person, as outspoken and vocal as I am, I wanted to belong, yes, I wanted to fit the mold, that I was expected to fit in the room at that time. And then there's that inner circle, you know, that small group of esteemed people, that the boss keeps close to him, you're either in that group or you're not, you're on the outside, you know who they are, because they have a close relationship with the boss, they dominate the conversations, always the boss listens to them, always, their opinion seems to carry more weight, you know what I'm talking about. And after a few days, after all the power points, you've made it through, there were times when you are hungry, and exhausted. But somehow those basic human needs are sacrificed and ignored. Under the guise of gonna tough it out, you're not committed if you don't stay the course and stay in this room for 14 hours. And if you don't do that, you're considered weak and not up to the challenge. And really, everybody in the room feels the same way. And you all know you're not operating at your best. But yet, there's this mold, you know, you got to show that you're tough. And you end up with a few broad based strategic projects, all written in corporate speak.

Jan Griffiths:

And, you know, you know what I'm talking about those things that say things like, create a world class purchasing organization with best in class business processes. Wow, that excites, No one. What does that even mean? How do you define a world class organization? And do you even want it? Is that what's really important to you and to your company right now in the world of automotive and what's happening? And best in class? Who cares? If it's best in class, it's got to be the right thing for you for your company, is another few more examples that I love. Change product portfolio to improve Europe revenue and profitability. Ah, really? What the hell does that mean? And why? Why are you doing that? This is supposed to be a strategy meeting, where you're outside of the day to day. You're not in the weeds, you're thinking onward and upward and you're thinking about where to take this company next. That's what strategy meetings are for. They're not about incremental steps of improvement and the oldest corporate speak bullshit. Let's think of another one. Continue to diversify customer portfolio. Continue to optimize the footprint to meet customer needs and ensure healthy growth. I have no idea what that really means. You're in that room to plan the future of the company. Nothing could be or should be more exciting. So why is it not that way? Why do we have this mold and we suffer through these awful meetings? And what can you do to change it? We're trying to fit this mold of a corporate bygone age. Yes, that type of strategy meeting came out of the chronic control model. In automotive, we talk about EVs and autonomous driving and the fact that we need to change, and we love the California culture, the tech culture. But if we keep running strategy meetings like this, we're never gonna get there, we're never gonna get get the process that we want. It's time to step up and change this process, to imagine what it could look like in an authentic leadership culture. So here are some thoughts that I have to share with you.

Jan Griffiths:

Ready? Here we go. Number one, go off site. This is not a time to try and show the company how frugal you are. And keep people in a conference room in a building where their energy level is, day to day operations, you want to go somewhere where you can change the mindset, you want to talk about innovation, you want people to feel excited, you want them to be in a different place. So go off site, find a venue and not a corporate hotel conference room. They are some of the most uninspired places I've ever been to in my entire life. Find somewhere different, somewhere exciting. If you live near a major city, there's there's loads of co-working spaces, different places for where innovation, you can feel the innovation in the room go somewhere different, go somewhere where there's plenty of light, and feed people. Don't give them a menu for Jimmy John's, no offense to Jimmy John's, but really come on, you need to make sure that people are operating in their optimum physical and mental and emotional condition. So make sure there's plenty of water, make sure you feed them good food, I'm not talking about the best steak, that's the last thing you want. But you want good quality, healthy food, you want to keep it coming. Lots of snacks, and lots of water. Take breaks often. And don't exhaust people on day one. If this is a two day conference, don't do that. If you're going to do a team bonding exercise, do it first. Get people to talk to each other as human beings first. So tip number one is go off site and do it right.

Jan Griffiths:

Tip number two, Spot spend time. And I mean, an unstructured time. Yep, unstructured time imagining what the future could be. Imagine what it would feel like and be bold. YouTube when it started, they wanted 1 billion views a day. Imagine how crazy that sounded. A billion views a day?! We need breakthrough groundbreaking moonshot type ideas in this meeting. We cannot stay in this this mold of incremental steps of improvement, 5% improvement on this, 10% improvement on that. No, be bold, think big. Get rid of the constraints in your thinking banish the fear in the room, the fear of judgment and the fear of failure. Because one of the reasons that we don't want these big bold ideas is because you want to make sure that we make the numbers that we make that objective because we don't want to look like a failure, right? If we continue with that type of thinking, we're never going to have the breakthrough and the innovation that we need in this industry. Stop playing it safe. Because you want to be sure that you will achieve the objective. Research some of the other tech companies out there look at the way Google handles its objectives. And it'd be more on that coming in a future episode. So don't hold back. Don't hold back. Don't send back. You'll never get real innovation and massive growth with that type of thinking. So that's tip number two, get that unstructured time and banish the fear in the room.

Jan Griffiths:

Number three, develop a good solid why? Now I opened this episode and I explained to you how I reach out to my guests. And part of that process is thinking through the why I develop a good solid why? And I'm often able to tell stories around that way. Remember, this is not a one shot deal where you create this grandiose PowerPoint presentations, never to be seen, again. You developing the mission, the strategic objectives for a company, you've got to develop a rallying cry around that around those objectives. And you can't do that without a strong why. And don't say things like, We've got to create and enhance shareholder value, that doesn't touch people, that doesn't connect with people at an emotional level. It's more corporate speak. People don't relate to that it's not human conversational language. After this meeting, you've got to mobilize an entire army of people, your entire organization around these objectives. So make them human, make them relatable. And more about the shareholder value as a rallying cry. In my next book report, you know, through decades, we've been taught that it's all about shareholder value. It's not, it's not. And there's a new book that's come out about Jack Welch, and I'm going to be talking more about that in a future episode. So that's step three, develop a good solid, why make it human to human type communication, and be able to tell stories around that why.

Jan Griffiths:

Number four, put yourself on the top of the mountain. Now, what I mean by that, with your strategic plans, is you've got to know what it looks like and feels like when you're there. And I just went through this exercise with a client recently, and they came up with this brilliant idea. And I asked them to explain what it feels like and what are they going to do when you get there? You know, are you going to have a party? Explain, tell me what it feels like. And the client came back and said, You know what, I have this idea. How about we select a song to describe what it feels like when we get there? Wow, what a brilliant idea, right? So they're often there, they're selecting a song to talk about what the top of the mountain feels like. Because if you can't talk about that, and visualize it, it's very hard to chart a path to get there, right? Think about high performance athletes. Wayne Gretzky doesn't play to where the puck is, he plays to where the puck is going to be. But you have to be able to visualize that emotionally, physically, you have to think about it. And it's a lot easier to put yourself on the top of the mountain, put yourself in that place of success, where all your strategic projects have happened, they've all come to fruition, and then look down and look at the steps it takes to get up there, that's a lot easier than doing what we normally do. Which is to stand at the bottom of the mountain, and then look up and say, Well, what we're trying to get up there. And then we somehow put these action plans to try to get there, it's a different way of visualizing, it's a more powerful way of taking a different perspective. So point number four, put yourself on top of the mountain, and play to where the puck is going to be not where it is.

Jan Griffiths:

Number five, get clear, real clear. Stop trying to fit the mold of corporate speak, use simple language. I have done this for decades. And I became really good at corporate speak, because I thought that that's what was expected of me and that I looked professional and executive like when I spoke corporate speak, and maybe it did. But it's no good. Because again, your mission as a leader is to develop the strategic plans for the company and then mobilize an army around them. And you can't do that with corporate speak, because corporate speak is too vague. And not everybody speaks it and they all have different interpretations. Use simple language. How many times if you pulled out a strategic objective a few months after you were in that room, and struggled to understand exactly what it meant. If you can't remember and you were in the room, how on earth you're going to mobilize an entire group of people around it. Make it so clear that a 10 year old can understand it. I mean it a 10 year old, don't worry that it doesn't sound professional or corporate enough. Make it real human to human communication. You can develop a rallying cry around this. It's got to be simple, memorable, something that people can attach to emotionally. You want them to feel good and excited about it. So get clear, real clear.

Jan Griffiths:

Now the fun starts. So you've come out of this room. You've got these great strategic objectives. Maybe you followed my five tips and they've helped great you're all excited now right? But how are you going to communicate these strategic objectives? To hundreds 1000s of people? Are you going to put them in a file folder, or maybe even a binder never to be looked at again, until that awful day, right? Where you see the next meeting notice in your inbox for the next strategic planning session, and you go, Oh, shit, it better do something. Oh, my God, I forgot all about those things. We don't want that to happen. How are you going to cascade that down through your organization? Let me tell you, one meeting with your direct reports isn't going to cut it. And how are you going to ensure alignment with the other departments in the organization, that's something that we often fall down on. And then the real test, where all of this typically falls down is in the execution and driving accountability. Positive accountability has become one of my favorite subjects to talk about, and work with my clients on. I used to hate this idea of driving accountability because it sounds like blame, right. And then I started my daily accountability lab concept, which I started early in the pandemic. And now it's a proven concept. I've been doing it for over two years, and now we're implementing it in the corporate world. And I've learned so much about positive accountability, how to get people feeling excited about what it is they're going to do, and to make sure that they work with each other to make that happen. Peer to Peer accountability, so it doesn't all fall on you, the boss, the leader, to micromanage everything. No, no, no, no, that's not authentic leadership. And in the next episode, I'm going deep into accountability with a guy who literally wrote the book on accountability. So more on that next. Remember, be real, be authentic, be you and lead from the heart. Authentic leadership is the way to go. Join me on your quest for Gravitas.


We love feedback. Email Jan directly at to tell us about your journey into authentic leadership. We want the show to be meaningful to you. So leave a comment on what you thought of today's episode and let us know if there's any topics that should be covered in future episodes.