It’s that time of year again, when the team Executive Team get together to reboot / refresh / rework the business’ strategy. This should be an invigorating and challenging experience that further ignites and supports the team to yet higher levels of achievement. Unfortunately, that is not typically how strategy planning is viewed, with annual / six monthly strategy planning consider more of a necessity than an opportunity, under the umbrella of good governance. It should be so much more than that. Your Executive Team should leave the business strategy planning phase:
  • energised,
  • excited,
  • equipped to implement,
  • exhausted, yet
  • hungry to pursue the strategy.
Set out below are some key tips on how to achieve developing business strategy that really hits the bullseye.
1. Go wider when preparing There is consensus that business strategy planning benefits from independent input because facilitator(s) have a singular focus on achieving strategic clarity without the complications of any vested interest or political bias. However, there are two schools of thought about the ideal way to facilitate. Those who:

1. Rely entirely on process such that sector knowledge and internal dynamics are not part of their preparation; and 2. Prioritise sector dynamics, futurism, internal input and collaboration to inform process design to fit the culture of each organisation worked with.

I recommend option 2, assuming the facilitator(s) are skilled in wearing two hats – expert facilitator as well as well-informed commercial adviser. With option 2, business strategy design relies on a foundation of collaborative preparation so major challenges and opportunities are understood from both an internal and external perspective, such that everyone involved (as part of a wider consultation group) feels “heard.” This means that when you get “the gang” together to plan, your facilitators know all the hot buttons, when to park matters and how to deal with personalities in the room effectively to get a superb outcome. Game changing strategy on a page, with prioritised and practical action priorities. 2. Walk the talk on collaboration When preparing for business strategy planning, I find “discovery” focused one-to-one, confidential interviews with relevant team members is invaluable. A note of warning. If these one-to-one’s are solely with the Executive team, then it will be useful rather than invaluable. It is critical to collaborate with the wider population to inform effective process design for each organisation. This means talking to:
  • All Executive Team members,
  • Selected Board members (the Chair being the top priority,)
  • Staff from selected parts of the organisation, and
  • If feasible, selected customers.
This is the fastest, most effective way to get a “warts and all” view of the good, bad and the ugly within the organisation to help inform a practical yet visionary strategy.  
3. Make the most of your Board (if you have one) Irrespective of whether I work with privately held companies or listed entities, I have been surprised by the lack of active engagement from the Board in relation to setting strategy. The Corporate Governance Code (the Code) establishes that the role of a Board includes setting strategy, corporate governance, risk management as well as establishing and role modelling values. Privately held companies are not required to demonstrate in depth compliance with the Code, yet can benefit from the best practice guidance offered, as part of the design and delivery of strategy. Minimum Board involvement Hence at a minimum, include selected Non-Executive Directors – including the Chair – in the collaboration prior to getting together for strategic planning. Remember – each conversation is a confidential one-to-one, so that key themes and issues are highlighted, while no specific commentary is attributed to any one individual. This allows everyone the freedom to be full and frank in their feedback. If you go no further than that, it will help when presenting the strategy to the Board for sign off. Best practice Board involvement Notwithstanding that, in an ideal world the Board would go away with selected members of the Executive Team for a separate strategy planning get-together. This would provide space to explore the strategy recommended and opportunity for rigorous discussion, fine tuning and pressure testing of the strategic planning prior to sign off (or otherwise) by the Board. 4. Get out of “Dodge” Depending on the size of your organisation, it can be tempting to get the team together for a strategy planning session on site. If budgets are tight, brainstorm with your team on how to get a cost-effective off-site location. Without fail the strategic planning outcome will be better quality if the team works together in a “clean space.” If you are in a better resourced situation, then choose a location carefully to allow for great thinking, break-out sessions, fun and non-work-related team activities. Invest in creating an environment where your strategy planning cohort will feel in the zone to deliver their best, during an intense and exciting experience. 5. Easy wins to bring the strategy alive at grassroots The challenge when leaving an amazing business strategy session is how to make it real, relevant and actionable for the rest of the wider enterprise. The best starting point is to look at how to use stories on a regular basis to bring alive the strategy and highlight the kind of behaviours and outcomes desired. This can happen in multiple informal and formal unstoppable ways such as:
  • Tell a different colleague a story when making a coffee once-a-day,
  • Implement a communications strategy to share microblogs on wins and learning from mistakes on Yammer or Chatter, if you have them,
  • Target key connectors in the organisation who can make stories go viral, and
  • Create staff heroes based on stories of success/turnaround/bravery in the context of the strategy e.g. email, text, awards…
These five tips will support defining and implementing game changing strategy very effectively at all levels of your organisation. I hope you found them useful and welcome any comments you may have.