Are you at a point when you realise it’s time to do something different? Maybe you recognise you are now in a stronger position than before and can take advantage of this. Or it could be that things have changed around you and your goals and strategies are out of date. You don’t need to do this strategic thinking alone, you can include colleagues in co-creating the revised strategy.
There are huge benefits from co-creating strategy:
- Multiple perspectives enriches the information and quality of debate
- By involving people in creating strategy, they have a shared understanding and are fully committed to making it happen
- Shared decision-making reduces risk
Strategic thinking away-day
I recently supported the board of a medium-sized organisation in developing their 3-year strategy. The CEO wanted a facilitated session, so that he and the Chair could participate with the others as equals. Here I outline the process I used, so you can see if it could help with your own approach to strategic thinking.
· Engage with stakeholders
First we shared up to date market intelligence and internal updates. Then I asked each participant to prepare a SWOT based on their current understanding of the company and its context. I called each person to introduce myself and get their perspective. This was useful to get an understanding of the range of views from the different parties and the inside view on the internal capabilities of the organisation.
· Design the strategy workshop
The CEO confirmed the desired outcomes for the day and I designed the flow of the day, using the principles from “Good strategy/Bad strategy” by Richard Rumelt:
- Guiding policy,
- Coherent actions.
I collated the individual SWOTs into one aggregated SWOT and a page with first thoughts and comments on the possible future for the organisation. I shared these beforehand with the agenda showing the structure for the day. The day was packed, but I felt confident we would cover enough for the executives to have the guidance they needed.
· Facilitating strategic thinking
We started the day with each person answering the question: “What outcome would make the day worthwhile for you and how are you feeling about it right now?” The comments showed that everyone wanted to achieve the same outcome and were feeling excited about the day.
We started off using the SWOT to generate insights and conclusions on the question: “What market are we in?” – Context, customers, competitors. Participants discussed each of these 3 aspects in small groups, followed by open debate to develop a shared understanding of the market dynamics.
We continued with the question: “What resources do we have?” – Core competences essential to do business and resources that give the company strategic advantage. We also reviewed weaknesses that would limit the company’s ability to pursue its strategy.
From this diagnosis we reached agreement on the challenges facing the company and its current position.
I felt there was still a lack of clarity on exactly what the company is there for (purpose) and which activities are in scope and which outside the remit. So we mapped what is in “our box”. The group quickly identified activities the company did not want to get involved in. Then putting existing core activities in “our box” was obvious, but there was much more debate about other activities. Would they directly deliver on Purpose and complement existing activities? Would they drain resources and diffuse focus or were there synergies to be gained?
Once we were all clear on what is in and what is out, we were ready to move on to the next step, which was visioning the future organisation.
I wanted to use this step to see how much agreement there was on what the company should be and achieve. So I asked each participant to draw/write up their own vision for a 3-year horizon. Using flipchart paper, some were more visual than others. Each person presented their vision to the others and we just listened until everyone had spoken.
There was significant agreement on what the company should be like in 3 years, some had put more detail than others, but there were no opposing views. This allowed us to draw the views together and to confirm the main principles guiding the company and its direction. We then spent some time discussing the details of a few aspects to establish their role and importance in the vision.
We had identified the strategies and where the company needed to focus its resources. The last step we had time for on the awayday was to identify the priorities and put some shape on those strategies. All agreed the top priority is to consolidate and become excellent in customer operations. This meant:
- investing further in the IT systems to offer up-to-date technological solutions that the modern mobile customer expects
- upskilling staff to optimise the quality of service throughout the customer journey from initial marketing touch points to membership renewals.
The executives took responsibility for turning the agreed Guiding Policy into an outline plan to deliver the strategy. This includes:
- Deciding on the long-term goals and specific objectives and identifying the indicators that will tell them that they are progressing on target.
- Determining how they will organise themselves and resource this strategy
- Agreeing actions and accountability for delivery
- Developing a communications plan for all stakeholders
They will prepare this outline plan ready for approval at the next Board meeting. Once approved, the senior management team will develop a business plan for the next year and an outline plan for the 3 years.
Then it will be down to all to deliver on this vision and strategy.
Strategic thinking is not something to fear or worry that you don’t have the skills. Engage with your main stakeholders – among them will be people who enjoy strategic thinking and they can help you.
Use a clear structure and process to guide the thinking. This helps you to surface important insights and cover the critical information required. A simple structure like Rumelt’s Diagnosis; Guiding Policy; Coherent Actions works well.
Ensure all participants prepare in advance. During the meeting encourage everyone to speak and that the listening is attentive. Be open-minded and inclusive and allow for both quality analysis and creative thinking. Get commitment from all to the decisions.
If you have any comments or questions, please do add them below or contact Amanda directly