The creation and delivery of a business strategy is a Sisyphean act; it is never-ending. It is developed in formal meetings and corridor conversations and is delivered through major change projects as well as the daily conversations between your customers and front-line teams.
The work is never done. But, at various stages in the life of any organisation, the work has to start.
Sometimes your market changes rapidly, demanding a strategic re-think, while, at other times, a more gradual decline in results leads to questions about the company’s strategy.
Whatever, the reason, there are times when you need to focus on clarifying the future direction of your business, its purpose, how it will succeed and the handful of priorities you need to focus on.
So, here’s how, with a little bit of preparation, you can develop a clear strategic direction in just a couple of days….
First, some pre-work will be required. When I’m working with clients, I will lead the creation of an insight pack that highlights: (1) Where you’re making money and where you’re not; (2) Where you’re growing and where you’re not; (3) What your customers think of you and your competitors, and their buying behaviours; (4) The big trends and uncertainties in your markets; (5) Your competitors’ strategies, performance and competitive positions; (6) What your people feel about working with you, and their overall commitment and capability; and (7) An understanding of your key assets and capabilities that help you (at least potentially) stand out from the crowd. I know this sounds like quite a lot, but I am usually able to get to a good position in just 2-3 weeks with my clients.
The second bit of pre-work is to give the attendees some homework. Ask them to visit competitors, talk to customers, research some benchmark companies in other industries and meet with other industry leaders. All of these tasks take people out of the ‘here and now’ of your business and helps to prepare them for a series of broader strategy discussions.
When it comes to the development of a high-level strategy, I find the best approach is an off-site 48-hour, two-day session of the leadership team. This allows your executive team to settle into the strategy discussions, forget some of the immediate operational issues and start to focus on the future. The key is that the team do the work, not me; after all, it’s their strategy, not mine, and if they are to inspire themselves and others to deliver it, they must first truly own it.
The meeting runs something like this:
Day 1: Clarify the issues and opportunities.
We meet in the late afternoon and work through a 3-4 hour session to meet, agree objectives and to review the insight work, idenityfing major issues and agreeing some areas of focus. By doing this on the first evening, I find that people really hit the ground running on the following morning and are far more productive than if they meet in the morning.
Day 2: Develop the outline strategy.
The day starts by reflecting on the previous evening’s work and then looking at the future possibilities for the company’s markets and its business. New ideas are generated and we build on this momentum by using a series of tools and structured discussions and exercise to develop an outline strategy, covering (1) A #1 strategic goal; (2) An understanding of the potential future playing field of the business; (3) Agreement about how the business will win going forward; and (4) The major areas of focus for action and development to bring the strategy to life.
Day 3: Moving forward.
We generally work until early/mid afternoon, as people are generally worn out by this time, and focus our discussions and timetable on (1) Defining the type of organisation required to deliver the strategy: (2) Setting out an initial view of the major milestones and performance requirements for the business over the next 2-3 years; and (3) A clear action plan to get moving at pace. With specific goals for the next week, month and quarter that will move the business forward.
At this stage, the detailed work of exactly what needs to be done to deliver the new strategy still has to be done. I generally appoint leaders of these workstreams in the meeting and ask them to report back with their plans in two weeks’ time. But you will already have achieved a lot.
You will have clarity on your big, strategic performance goal. You will have a shared understanding of how you want to lead your markets and differentiate yourself from your competition. And you will have agreed your big strategic priorities for the next 2-3 years. Not bad for a couple of days work!
How much would your business benefit from taking 48-hours to clarify its future direction and establish how it will grow and thrive?
© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.