Turning the page to 2024: As we begin a new year ripe with opportunity and success, let’s all ask ourselves these questions: Do we know what we want 2024 to be? What do we want to have achieved a year from now? What do we want to experience? How do we want to feel?
Over the last month, our team has had the privilege of planning and facilitating four organizational Board – Management retreats. I call it a privilege because, for each of these organizations, we have been invited back for such a topic – that we are now partners in this journey as opposed to a vendor.
The very use of the word retreat suggests the military framing of going backward. It is an inaptly titled process. Look for us to reframe the branding of this going forward. The true purpose of a “retreat” is to take a break, reflect, and look around. The purpose of a retreat is to plan how we go forward. It is the opposite of retreat.
Do we know where we are? Are we in trouble? Do we know where we are going? Do we know what success looks like when we arrive there? Are our priorities reflected in our business plan? Or do we merely adopt a budget and fund what we have in place today? Do we have the right talent on the team to deliver that business plan? Do we need to adjust on any of the previously agreed paths?
English author Lewis Carroll is credited with first writing, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there”.
Sadly, too many organizations tell us, “We are too busy doing our jobs to figure out if we’re doing the right work”. The purpose of a retreat is to confront precisely that question – are we doing the right work, with the right people, to arrive at a place we desire? Because we know where we are going, we precisely know the road to take – a retreat affirms if any adjustments might be necessary.
In our experience, successful Board and Leadership retreats have five common characteristics:
1. The agenda is led by the professional Leadership and informed by the Board.
2. It is an annual process – where Leadership and the Board review and align on Mission, Vision, and organizational Values – what they want the organization to look like 3-5 years forward.
3. It is an opportunity for leadership to collaboratively present outcomes that executives of the organization are committed to delivering during the coming year in pursuit of the larger vision.
4. The agenda is about Outcomes vs Actions (customer satisfaction vs on-time performance) – and then Leadership takes those agreed Outcomes to inform business plan development and the budgeting process.
5. Leadership aligns with the Board on how they will measure and present (typically quarterly) their progress to produce those Outcomes.
High-performing organizations nationwide have followed this model of using a retreat to plan how to proceed. They embrace outcomes versus actions. They recognize that their projects should drive performance – and improve value to taxpayers, customers, and the community. They are clear with their CEO what success looks like – quantifiably. They make strategic priority choices and recognize that organizations can only prioritize some things.
Influential leaders go through this process from a personal perspective. What does success look like for ME at the end of the year? Do I want to reduce the time spent on my phone on the weekends? By how much? How many meals am I committed to having with my family each week at the table? How many miles will I run each week? How many books will I read?
How do I want to feel at the end of the year?
Properly planned retreat exercises are like the starting blocks for a world-champion sprinter. Much like an organization will likely have many years – a sprinter will run many races. The starting blocks aren’t the start but the reflective moments before an explosive beginning at the starter’s pistol to know precisely where you are headed. Unlike the sprinter, who is only responsible for themselves, this pause and reflect exercise is essential to lead a complicated organization with multiple participants working multiple shifts.