Some moments of impact happen unexpectedly. They are a surprise, and they can be life altering.
But, some moments of impact can be “designed.” And that is the key word – such a moment is “designed,” from start to finish. From the place you hold the conversation, to who you invite into the conversation, to the “rules” of engagement in the conversation, these gatherings are ones in which everything matters! Moments of impact, in other words, do not usually happen by accident. They are carefully planned – designed.
This is the premise of Moments of Impact: How to Design Conversations That Accelerate Change by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon. And they call these moments of impact strategic conversations. From the book:
Starategic conversations are creative and collaborative problem-solving sessions designed to address an adaptive challenge. (Hmm – if only we had some adaptive challenges these days!).
In reading through this book, this simple truth struck me: it is foolish to hold a “planning retreat,” or a ”problem-solving retreat” – one in which you will fly folks in, and carve out a day or more of collaborative time – without actually preparing in the smartest and most thorough way possible for such a gathering.
In other words, considering all the person-hours to be spent in that room, you should probably invest quite a few hours beforehand not just preparing the “agenda,” but also designing the entire process that you want to make happen.
The authors warn against the foolishness of just “expecting” a strategic conversation to happen. Full agreement here — and I think that reading this book is a very good place to start.
Over recent years, we’ve had plenty of reminders that conversations create the future. Books like Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, & McMillan, and Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, have provided part of my education in these matters. Here’s what I have learned – and experienced: the right conversations can be magical; the wrong conversations can be deadening. And the conversations that never happened (those needed-though-avoided conversations) can have such negative ripple effects that there may never be any salvaging done after such damage.
In this book, after reminding us of the VUCA world we now live in — volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (I first read about this in Get There Early by Bob Johansen) — the authors call for a well-designed strategic conversations process. This process revolves around five core principles (again, from the book)
Core principle #1 — Define Your Purpose
Core principle #2 – Engage Multiple Perspectives
Core principle #3 – Frame the Issues
Core principle #4 – Set The Scene
Core principle #5 – Make It An Experience
Of course, they flesh out these core principles, and provide a clear process to follow to help you design your own strategic conversations.
This book has plenty to say about how to approach many conversations throughout your work life, but I would call this a must-read before you plan one of those “we’ve really got to deal with this stuff” retreat-length meetings.