How To Improve Planning Session Participation

Effective planning is vital to any business’ success. Participation by employees and executives in planning sessions for activities such as mapping out annual action plans, organizing major projects, and developing strategic plans should be a priority.

Nevertheless, many of those who are charged with leading a company planning effort often face the problem that other employees who should be present and engaged in the process aren’t. If you struggle with participation challenges in your dealership’s planning activities, here are eight tips to help make your sessions more successful.

1. Don’t repeat mistakes of the past.

There may be a reason those previous attempts to secure needed participation have not been successful. Take time to understand why previous meetings were not successful and be honest in your assessment. Seek out opinions both from those who actively participated in the past, and from those who have not. Use that feedback to make needed corrections. Ask these questions:

- Could past sessions be seen as a waste of time?

- Were potential participants given appropriate notice?

- Was the planning activity itself planned, organized, and conducted with a sense of purpose?

- Was time used effectively and efficiently?

- Was discussion dominated by a single person or just a few individuals?

- Were opinions elicited from those who were present but quiet?

- Did participants leave with a sense of accomplishment?

- Were participating employees recognized for their contributions?

- Was follow-up action taken on strategies that were developed?

2. Set participation goals.

Identify who should be present in order for your meeting to be a success. Instead of giving employees the opportunity to consider the meeting optional, communicate to them that their participation is needed and their insights valued.

3. Avoid schedule conflicts.

Schedule planning activity far enough in advance to avoid potential scheduling conflicts. Sounds like a no-brainer but sometimes the organization already has other activities planned, important deadlines are approaching, or it’s a heavy vacation period. Get schedule availability input from desired participants and set your date when most are available. Even better, set your activity on a regular, recurring schedule.

4. Establish expected outcomes.

Have a specific purpose for your session. Communicate in advance what you intend to cover and the result you are hoping for. For example, if you want to develop strategies for better managing trade-in equipment, employees will be able to come ready with ideas on how to log, store and resell equipment. Identifying an expected outcome will also help keep the session focused on the primary task at hand.

5. Make sure participants are prepared.

Your planning team should know exactly what is expected of them. It’s difficult to offer a qualified opinion when given the details and objectives without the opportunity to review materials prior to the time of discussion. Following the example of managing trade-ins, offer them details on the amount of trade-ins received and highlight reoccurring problems with management. Help them be prepared with advance information.

6. Determine what format works best for your group.

Take into account the personalities involved. Use a meeting format that gets desired results and creates a positive experience so people are motivated to participate in future sessions.

- Do you need teambuilding or fun activities?

- Will your team react more favorably to a strictly all-business session?

- What is the most productive length of time?

- Will you get best results by getting away from the office and working in a retreat setting, or will a few hours in the dealership be okay?

7. Have a designated facilitator.

Having someone with the ability to get everyone engaged and keep the process moving and focused is essential for creating the successful planning session you want. Have the manager of the department, whether it is the sales floor, parts department or shop, lead the discussion.

Judge whether or not someone outside your organization is needed. An outside facilitator is often more effective at challenging, encouraging, and drawing out opinions, and controlling discussion so it stays on a positive, productive track. Seek an industry consultant or one of your distributors. Distributors are usually knowledgeable about the challenges your organization faces and may have worked with other dealers in their territory to find other solutions.

8. Don’t forget your post-event follow-up.

Personally thank staff and mention specific contributions made. Solicit feedback for future sessions and give regular progress reports on implementation of the plans that were developed.

Having consistently high participation in your organization’s planning sessions creates an environment in the dealership that is conducive to a successful and well-managed business.

Create within your company the realization of the vital importance of planning activities by executing these tips. You will be more likely to enjoy a higher level of preparation, participation and enthusiasm in your planning sessions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: As a speaker and consultant, Hardy Smith helps organizations achieve high performance success. Learn more about Hardy by visiting