Never Put Down Your Strategic Plan.

Sometimes the mistakes we make are our best teacher.  Such is the case with my pursuit of a better way of helping organizations to use their strategic plans.


The mistake that I kept repeating:  After hours of work with clients we would produce a beautiful strategic plan!  Then, after hand-offs and hugs I would walk away, leaving the talented people at the organization to get to work. When I would follow up 6 months or a year later, I would ask the how implementation was going.  I would often hear, “well, it's going well, but I feel like we're kind of losing momentum or losing track of what was in the plan”. This was heartbreaking since the See What I Mean style of strategic planning uses visuals, metaphors, and activities to help make the plan concepts sticky. 

A better way…

How could I help organizations fulfill their intentions created during strategic planning?

This isn’t a new problem. Most recommendations encourage organizations to pull out the strategic plan every 6 months or once a year to take a look at progress and adjust. I thought about the most powerful levers in organizations.  The places where we focus our time and attention. The activities that never get lost in the shuffle. 

The answer was apparent: MEETINGS.

Especially, Board meetings and All-staff. These meetings happen regularly.  We spend lots of time on them. They’re a place we build - or break - culture. And, when facilitated well, these meetings have the potential to shift our daily work and change our thinking

Our approach…

Instead of shoving strategic plans into board meetings or your all staff meetings, we champion an approach where your strategic plan becomes the architecture for your meeting.  

How does that work?

Some examples:

  • If there are three categories in your strategic plan, there should be three segments in your agenda.  One for each strategy. Within that strategy you’ll likely have items for approval, discussion and information. 

  • If you’re adding an item to the agenda, decide where (and if) it fits into you strategic plan. If you can’t find a fit, does it belong in the prime real estate of your meeting?

  • If you’re sharing your budget proposal for the year show how investments fit with your strategic goals.

  • If you choose to have reports during the meeting, ask them to focus their comments on how their work is accelerating the plan.

Using your strategic plan as the architecture of your Board and All-staff meeting agenda means that your board and your team never loses track of your plan and neither do you. 

To learn more about this approach and how to implement it in your organization, schedule a Coaching for Facilitation and Agenda Design Session. In this session you will receive ideas, tools and feedback to make the most of your next meeting.

Innovating with Empathy

Over two years, 23 grantmakers explored how to improve openness and transparency. The grantseekers we learned from made the best case for improving our practices.

“Philanthropy gains impact and trust with grantseekers when funders practice openness. Grantseekers are able to get a stronger sense of the priorities of  the funder when there is openness in the relationship.” Gina Weekley -  At-Risk Student Supports Coordinator, Waterloo Community School District

“Everybody wins when funders practice openness, especially the people nonprofits are serving. We risk continuing to do the same things the same way without openness. Not practicing openness is a big risk.” Annie VanderWerff - Executive Director. Community Health Initiative, Haiti

Pushing for transparency, stretching for partnerships, and improving our processes are not new issues for philanthropy. We’ve heard the calls to improve for years.  But, they are issues where we need more progress and where we could use some new approaches.

In Iowa, we decided to use an innovative approach to tackle these perennial dilemmas.  See What I Mean and Visual Logic, helped Iowa Council of Foundation members import user experience (UX) techniques from the high-tech and human-centered design world. UX demands we focus on the experience of grantseekers and discipline ourselves to put grantseekers in the center of our foundations’ design, strategy, and culture. In short, to work from a paradigm of empathy instead of power.  

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To find out more about what we discovered when we used UX tools to embrace adaptive change in philanthropy, check out our white paper.

The Six Principles of Great Meetings

Some days we feel like meetings gobble us up. We beg to get back to our desk to do our “real work.”  Other days we need an idea, a decision, a breakthrough and our first instinct is to call a meeting for help.  

Why are meetings so tricky? Why are we so ambivalent about them? At See What I Mean, we believe meetings are necessary because so much of what we try to accomplish requires human interaction.  Meetings are our platform for human connection. We also believe that meetings can be better. Much better. Better for the people around the table and better for your organization's progress

In this post we explore Six Principles of Effective Meeting Design.

The questions on everyone’s mind during the meeting:


Role clarity

In a great meeting:

  • Each person knows where their decision making role, and everyone else’s decision making role, begins and ends.

  • Each person has maximal opportunities for participation appropriate to their role.

  • Meeting designers have carefully considered the right questions for the audience.


The questions on everyone’s mind during the meeting: 


Purpose driven design

In a great meeting:

  • Each person knows the purpose of the meeting: decisions, ideas, learning, aligning, etc.

  • Each person knows what’s NOT on the table. For example, we’re making decisions, not opening new ideas.  We’re sharing information, not telling each other what to do.

  • Meeting designers name the purpose explicitly and choose activities appropriate to the purpose.

The questions on everyone’s mind during the meeting: 


Relationship development is always on the agenda

In a great meeting:

  • Relationships are built, maintained or sustained.

  • Each person has the opportunity to do their best work and be their best self in the session.

  • Meeting designers include appropriate ways to create shared experiences that support relationship development.

The questions on everyone’s mind during the meeting: 


Build the agenda with the right architecture

In a great meeting:

  • Each person can follow the logic of the meeting.

  • Each section of the agenda has a purpose that supports the previously and following activity.  

  • Meeting designers employ the architecture of great meeting design, including elements that are often forgotten, skipped and overlooked.

The questions on everyone’s mind during the meeting: 


Design activities, not discussions.

In a great meeting:

  • Each person can be an active participant, not a passive recipient, or a bored bystander.

  • Large group, all-discuss, everything formats are limited/

  • Meeting designers use a variety of activities and tools to keep people engaged and energy flowing.

The questions on everyone’s mind during the meeting: 

Visuals and metaphors create sticky understanding.

In a great meeting:

  • Each person understands and can remember the core concepts.

  • Visuals and metaphors help people debate ideas, rather than each other.

  • Meeting designers use visuals to help move a conversation along and make results memorable.

Implementing these Six Principles of Great Meetings will give you the Super Powers to Design Effective Meetings.

Download our complimentary infographic “6 Super Powers of Effect Meeting Design” to remember these Principles.

Need help implementing these Six Principles?

Tricky meeting coming up? Need help energizing an agenda? Looking for a few tips on how to deal with a challenging topic?  We’ve got you covered. At SWIM we offer a 1 hour Coaching session for Facilitation and Agenda Design. During this session we’ll provide you with ideas, tools and feedback to make the most of your session.