Setting the Table for Strategy Conversations

table settingMany people are motived to change something in their lives, or even about themselves, as the new year takes hold. That goes for senior leaders who see opportunities to provide additional momentum to their company’s priorities by leveraging this prevailing mindset. Unfortunately, using that leverage often proves to be uninformed and even misdirected.

Earlier this week, I spoke with a leader about her desire for some “polishing” of the company’s strategy. “Good timing,” she quipped, “everyone seems to have a slightly bigger appetite for change.” When asked about her requirements, she responded in a very familiar way: “I’m thinking a day with the leadership team should do the job. We’re already really clear on our way forward and key priorities.”

Alarm bells often go off when I hear “we’re really clear” from the top leader referring to their team’s alignment around direction and priorities. My experience says otherwise; what’s thought to be collectively understood often has different interpretations and meanings.

In this case, after conversations with some of her team members, it was actually quite clear that there wasn’t real understanding and alignment around key aspects of the company’s strategy, including core focus, market positioning, primary customers and lines of business. A one-day team strategy session isn’t going to do the job for sure – some upfront “setting of the table” must take place to ensure stronger alignment this time around.

So, how do you set the table before you actually get your strategy refresh underway? Here are six key steps to successfully launch your conversations.

1.) Set the Theme: Confirm Key Expectations

Once you’ve decided to embark on a strategy refresh, canvas your team members regarding their sense of what’s required to clarify and align future direction and key priorities. While a full team discussion is essential, be sure to check in with your team members on a one-to-one basis to get additional depth and often more forthright responses.

2.) Plan the Menu: Consider Key Insights

All too often, leadership teams fail to consider the key learnings and insights that occurred from previous strategy refresh efforts. Reflecting on what worked well and what could be improved provides worthwhile guidance for the next iteration. Missing or ineffective outcomes related to content, process, communications and engagement should all be in the mix for this discussion.

3.) Choose the Décor: Identify Relevant Drivers and Barriers

Be realistic and honest about possible barriers to the success of your strategy refresh effort. These may include time constraints, individual and group commitment, and incomplete data. On the flip side, identify aspects within your team, organization, industry and markets that may provide urgency and momentum around your design efforts. These may include changing technologies, shifts in customer preferences, enhanced competition or emerging new markets.

strategy session

4.) Confirm the Ingredients: Determine Level of Success

Any strategy refresh is best evaluated in the light of actual results. How well did you and your team do in terms of realizing key goals and accomplishing major priorities? For those that succeeded, can you identify the factors that enabled you to execute successfully? And for those that fell short or failed, what were the contributing characteristics? Use this information to fine tune your process and determine how best to craft content.

5.) Incorporate Options: Confirm Major Assumptions

Often, without realizing it, we have unstated assumptions about the world in which we work – be it about our shareholders, the competition, current and potential customers, the regulatory framework under which we operate or even emerging technologies that may impact our industry or sector. Spend time with your team, before your strategy conversations, to uncover assumptions that underpin your thinking about future direction.

6.) Anticipate Guest Interactions: Gauge Team Effectiveness

All your strategy refresh efforts, in terms of content and process, can be quickly undone through challenging group dynamics. Spend time, before your strategy discussions, to take stock of your team’s effectiveness, particularly as related to communications and decision-making. Depending on those needs, allocate some dedicated time for team development before and during your strategy discussions.

To get better results during your strategy refresh discussions, be sure to first confirm key expectations of your team members; identify key learnings and insights from previous efforts; identify relevant drivers and barriers; determine degree of previous success; confirm major assumptions about the world in which you operate and gauge your team’s effectiveness. ‘Set the table’ using these six key actions – it will enable optimal alignment and improved outcomes in terms of understanding, decision-making, commitment and execution.

If you want to better understand how best to “set the table” prior to your own strategy refresh conversations, contact me at scott@scottborland.ca or 250-882-8830.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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