You’ve booked your annual corporate retreat, you’ve got your whole management team in attendance, and you spend the entire week strategising. Sound familiar? The real question is what happened after the retreat? Was last year’s strategy implemented? How successful was it?
Strategy is a vital component of a business’s growth and success, but it’s also an area that many businesses don’t implement.
So, how do you formulate the right strategy for your business, and then – more importantly – implement it?
The strategy workshop
First, you need to ensure that you have the right people at your strategy workshops. If everyone has the same perspective, the result will be a very narrow strategy. Instead, diversify the session.
Of course, as a starting point the senior management team needs to be there. But then you need to ensure that there is sufficient diversity. Ask yourself these
- Are all the major departments/divisions represented?
- Regarding gender, women see the world (and business dynamics) in a different way to men. It really makes sense to have both sexes present. Do you?
- It goes without saying that the workshop mix should include delegates from all the main racial or cultural groups. Importantly, the purpose of doing this is not to be politically correct. Rather, one is recognising that the different groups may have different priorities and perspectives. Do you have diversity to enrich the quality of the strategic conversations taking place?
- Are you letting the youth be heard? As a general rule, I normally request that at least two of the workshop participants be under the age of 30. Strategy workshops that are attended exclusively by the older generation may not adequately represent the views and aspirations of the younger generation. Great strategy embodies the views of both these groups.
- Have you invited a maverick or two to the workshop? These are the people who are not afraid to share their ideas, even if they’re perceived as controversial or unconventional.
- Have you invite key clients, suppliers, or strategic partners to attend select sessions? They could add valuable outsider insight, plus you’re showing them how important they are to your business.
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Setting the scene
Once you’ve selected your workshop mix, you need to ensure that meaningful conversations take place. The focus of strategy is not about producing thick documents that nobody uses. Instead, focus on producing a two-pager that is understandable to everyone in your organisation. Remember, everyone in your business has a role to play in implementing the strategy.
Producing the right document starts with having the right conversations (which incidentally are more important than the final document itself). So, how do you ensure strategic conversations take place?
I suggest you focus on the four Ds, namely discussion, debate, dialogue and disagreement. If you can tick all these boxes at the end of your session you’ve had a good
A cautionary note: many strategy workshops commence at the strategic level but are very quickly drawn into vigorous discussions about operational, tactical or even administrative issues. Although the latter are important, the majority of the air-time should be devoted to truly strategic issues. Operational excellence is another matter to be discussed at another time.
Finally, don’t be scared to enter areas of tension or conflict. High-performance teams engage – when necessary – in areas of ‘uncomfortable debate’. This is sometimes difficult or unpleasant, but it’s a vital component of strategy.
Using the right brain
While strategy needs a logical foundation supported by analytical techniques and suitable frameworks and models, it’s important not to turn strategy into a numbers game.
For strategy to have a great impact, bring in a stronger dose of right-brain thinking: make it more creative, more imaginative, more intuitive, more visual, even more playful.
This links in to another important point. We need less telling about strategy and more selling. Strategy can no longer be imposed upon people. Getting buy-in is a vital ingredient. In this regard, the way strategy is promoted and ‘packaged’ can play a big role. Stated otherwise, strategy needs both intellectual and emotional appeal. It needs to come alive through a visual and emotional representation.
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The ingredients of a great strategy
Once you’ve completed your session, you should have a great strategy outline. This should include a number of core ingredients including:
- A business model that works – for now (recipe for value creation)
- Effective leadership (drivers of strategy)
- Connecting with clients and potential clients (satisfying/exciting them)
- Connecting with employees (engaging/inspiring/empowering/growing them)
- An element (or elements) of uniqueness.
And remember, connecting goes far beyond communicating – with connecting, people get each other, there’s feedback, and strong flows of energy in both directions. A great strategy must excite and energise those people who are tasked with its implementation.
Here’s the trick: Simple strategy means using one or two critical strategic processes and a handful of unique rules that guide them. Remember, strategy is a contact sport – you get engaged when you’re part of the action, not watching from the sidelines.
Strategy should be a natural add-in, not a cosmetic add-on. In other words, it should naturally integrate with, or inform, or ‘flavour’ business processes and organisational dynamics (formally or informally).
It’s not a bureaucratic function or duty that is imposed on people and – most importantly – it’s not separate from the rest of the business. Great strategy is a golden thread running throughout the organisation that picks up vital signals, integrates all key components, searches for new opportunities, gives direction, differentiates, inspires and energises, and focuses on achieving desired results.
When facilitating strategy workshops, I like to suggest that high-impact strategy is built around the following five Fs.
- Focus: What business do we want to be in? Many companies refer to this as their mission statement, and it’s all about defining the breadth and depth of their proposed business activities. Hot tip: focus on what you do best, and partner for the rest.
- Follow-through: This relates to action and implementation. Many strategies fail due to a lack of follow-through. Many business executives place too much emphasis on high-level strategy, on intellectualising and philosophising, and not enough on execution – this is essentially the discipline of meshing strategy with reality, aligning people and resources, and achieving the results promised.
- Feedback: For strategy to be successful, meaningful feedback needs to take place on an ongoing basis, ensuring that all key stakeholders are kept up to date.
- Flexibility: Strategy is formulated and implemented in the context of a dynamic and rapidly-changing world. Upfront, a number of key assumptions and forecasts are made. If there are major surprises or substantial changes to key variables (such as the price of commodities, or the exchange rate), then the plans need to be amended accordingly. In other words, the strategy process needs to be robust with a high degree of flexibility.
- Fun: Don’t forget the element of fun. Most strategy sessions are dull, boring and overly serious. This often results in standard, generic and uninspiring strategies. Importantly, strategy doesn’t only have to position, it also has to inspire. When strategy becomes fun and exciting, people want to become involved and the process is a lot more productive and value-adding.