Marc D. Kirshbaum
Creating alignment. Establishing priorities. Building an action plan. Executing. These terms represent the foundation of any well led organization on the path to success.
Teams within organizations and businesses often leverage strategic planning sessions to contemplate and discuss where the organization is now, where it will be going to in the future, and how it will get there. These strategic planning sessions are often held off-site and for a full day or longer, affording teams the benefits of avoiding distractions, increasing engagement, strengthening relationships and confirming buy-in.
Political parties have annual conventions. Charities have board retreats. Businesses have management off-site meetings. These are all commonplace.
But a personal strategic off-site between spouses? Not so common, and some would say quite a risky proposition to bring such a concept and structure into one’s personal life. Well, I did it and offer aspects of my personal experience to be a potential inspiration to others.
Setting The Stage
Almost ten years ago, my wife and I decided to apply the basic business and organizational tool of a strategic off-site meeting to our personal lives. Both my friends and business colleagues initially laughed and said that their spouses would never agree to such a thing. Nonetheless, we did it, and dare I say that this two-day investment of our time and energy set the course for clear alignment, distinct prioritization and easy decision-making for almost all aspects of our lives for the next ten years.
“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”
Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor’s Handbook
Here’s how it all went down. We checked into a very nice hotel for two nights, enjoyed the spa, good food and general time together like a normal couples’ getaway. However, the wrinkle in this getaway was that we brought easels, paper and markers with us. You should have seen the look on the bellman’s face when he delivered these items to our room for what otherwise would have looked like a romantic getaway!
Over the next two days, sheets of sticky easel paper were hanging from every possible place in the room with scribble all over them in different colors. Our focus was firstly brainstorming and putting to paper the things that mattered most to us in our lives. The long list of brainstorm items was discussed and then bucketed into key categories such as: education; community & environment; spirituality; career; friends & family; financial; travel & culture; and philanthropy & volunteerism.
We prioritized the list and the categories we created, took the time to understand where there were consistencies, differences and the need for trade-offs. We then compared, validated and stress tested these items to our lives in the “present state” and our “desired future state.”
The Big Impact
Personally, the biggest decision we made during these two days was to sell our beautiful home on the beach and move to a “cookie-cutter” home in a less glamorous neighborhood because doing so was key to enhance and focus on our top priorities: community, spirituality, friends & family, and financial flexibility.
We were certainly blessed with the fact that attaining alignment for us was basically effortless, yet the exercise of both verbalizing it and documenting it was priceless. It created a “shorthand” for future communications and decisions that – ten years later – are still guiding us to this day.
Adoption & Results for Others
I can’t begin to tell you the number of times that friends and colleagues have approached me over the years to tell me that while they originally scoffed at the idea, they have actually adopted some or all of this concept of the strategic off-site in their personal lives. They have thanked me for sharing and planting the seed that has made a difference in their lives and their relationships within their family.
Regardless of the method and frequency that is chosen, the key is to establish alignment around your joint and individual priorities, then using this alignment and these priorities to guide decision-making going forward. It really helps you “sweat the big stuff” and focus energy on being present, knowing that you are spending your energy and making choices that are based upon your priorities.
Just like a business or organization, the strategy is developed and plan built by: focusing on strengths; defining priorities; increasing engagement; obtaining alignment; and executing in a consistent manner that creates acceleration and strengthens trust.
First Warning: Do not use this approach in an attempt to transform your relationship into a manager-employee relationship with the desire to “manage your spouse.” You will have taken the suggestion too far and down a path that will not lead to long-term success by trying to manage your significant other!
Second Warning: Taking a weekend for personal strategic planning with your significant other is not the same as taking a vacation. Remember the importance of unplugging and just enjoying life’s adventures through vacations.
In the words of Larry Bossidy in his book, Execution, “We don't think ourselves into a new way of acting, we act ourselves into a new way of thinking.” May we all take actions that empower us in all aspects of our lives, creating joy, satisfaction and meaning for ourselves and those around us.
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