The big problem with most strategic planning processes is that they are long on planning and short on strategy. Pressed for time – “The budgets need to be signed off in three weeks!” – your focus is on plans and figures, not new ideas, and that inevitably leads to incremental thinking and initiatives.

So how can you get more and bigger ideas into your strategic planning? One process I use with my best clients is a ‘Growth Summit’. This session is concerned with identifying opportunities, developing options and shaping ideas.

These sessions can last a week or more, but I have found that even a one or two-day session can deliver the impetus needed to raise the quality of strategic thinking and provide the catalyst to raise the organisation’s ambitions and accelerate growth.

There are six key steps you need to take to design and deliver an effective Growth Summit.

  1. Agree The Themes. Clarifying the themes for discussion gives you the focus to get the collective creative juices flowing. There are three types of themes you can focus on: (1) A specific business area, such as a particular product or geographical market; (2) A cross-functional process, such as customer service or new product development; or (3) A more abstract business concept, such as speed, partnerships or value. Depending on the time available and the issues facing the business, I recommend reviewing one to three themes at any single Growth Summit.
  2. Set The Bar. Next, you need to determine what success looks like. What is the level of improvement and growth you are looking to achieve and what level of prudent risk are you willing to consider? An honest, up-front agreement of these criteria will help focus your efforts on those ideas with the greatest potential and allow you to deselect those that fail to pass the ‘smell test’.
  3. Engage The Team. The wide and open-ended nature of the Growth Summit demands that you invite a mix of participants. In addition to members of your leadership team, you should invite key players from your development and front-line teams, as well as external people who can offer a different perspective.
  4. Organise Some Homework. Ask participants to look at various trends and uncertainties that relate to your agreed themes, and get them to report back to the wider team at the Summit, both with new insights and initial ideas. In addition, collect any interesting and high-potential ideas that have been discussed in your other management meetings or corridor conversations.
  5. Run The Growth Summit. The Growth Summit is all about getting a shared perspective on how you can win in the future. The opportunities are unlikely to be that urgent, which means that you can talk about them in more detail and develop some exciting alternatives. You are also less constrained by your organization’s existing capabilities and structures. Indeed, part of the agenda should focus on identifying the capabilities you are missing and need to consider developing or acquiring. The ‘meat’ of the Growth Summit should be focused on developing and discussing exciting new opportunities, identifying their potential, understanding any organisational implications, and considering how a compelling business model could be developed. At the end of the Summit the group should agree the shortlist of projects for next-stage development.
  6. Keep The Work Moving. For each agreed project, a project leader should be identified to carry out initial development. This is likely to involve a mix of desktop analysis and prototype development and testing, and should aim to report back to the Growth Summit team within a focused timescale (say 6-8 weeks). You want to know three things: is this a big idea, could the organization pull it off and, if so, with what risks, and what’s the likely level of investment and effort required?

I suggest that you run at least two Growth Summits each year, enabling you and your teams to develop and consider new, big ideas outside of the freneticism of daily business life, giving your business a stream of potentially game-changing opportunities that can drive its longer-term success.

But what do you think? What’s worked best for your organisation to develop and drive compelling new growth ideas?

© Stuart Cross 2012. All rights reserved.