In its simplest terms, a business strategy is a plan or road map to take a business from where it is today to where it wants to be at some future point in time.
An effective business strategy is one which clearly articulates the business’s goals, aspirations and purpose, has a laser-like focus on delivering uniqueness and value to its target market, creates unity and cohesion across the whole organisation, agrees key priorities, allocates resources and takes action to support the journey, measures and tracks progress, and refines the plan, as necessary, along the way.
In this article, I outline 5 tips for business leaders, managers and owners to assist them in developing and delivering an effective business strategy.
The 5 tips are:
1. Prepare fastidiously
2. Appoint a professional facilitator to support the process and lead a Strategic Planning Workshop
3. Get the logistics for the Strategic Planning Workshop right
4. Structure the Strategic Planning Workshop agenda to support the process and deliver an actionable plan with clear accountabilities
5. Review and refine the plan
1. Prepare Fastidiously
The preparation phase is critically important.
This phase is all about laying solid foundations. Just as with the constructing a building, unless solid foundations are put in place, it will, almost inevitably, lead to instability and ongoing problems that stymie progress and achievements.
To quote Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”
During the preparation phase, you should:
• Start thinking about the outcomes that you want to achieve
• Decide who needs to be involved in the strategic planning process
• Give those who are to be involved advance notice on what’s being planned. If your Board is to be involved, give them as much notice as possible to ensure maximum attendance and contribution.
• Schedule a workshop to discuss, debate and decide on the strategic priorities and plan for the forthcoming period
• Circulate a draft agenda for the workshop and seek input from those attending
• Seek additional input that will be useful to create discussion and debate and be considered at the workshop. This might be in the form of a pre-workshop survey. Some of the typical questions asked in such surveys include:
What are our business’s top 3 current challenges and why?
What’s currently working well and why?
What changes are occurring in our external environment?
What opportunities exist to strengthen our competitive position?
What game changing actions could be taken to fast track the business to another level?
What are the top 3 things that differentiate us from our main competitors?
What are the top 3 reasons why we lose opportunities to our competitors?
Which parts of our Operating Model require improvement and better alignment?
What needs to be changed to improve our reputation and strategic positioning in the market?
2. Appoint a Professional Facilitator to Support the Process and Lead the Workshop
Getting the business strategy right is, without a doubt, the single most critical factor that business owners and leaders need to do to ensure success.
Just as you would want a specialist cardiologist (rather than a GP) to provide expertise in dealing with unique cardiac issues, it makes logical sense to engage a professional facilitator who is a specialist in supporting the process of developing a robust strategic plan.
Sometimes, business leaders choose to do their own facilitation because they have past experience in facilitation. Even where this is the case, my experience is that this is something to avoid due to the fact that team dynamics will nearly always be different and less conducive to optimal outcomes than if an independent facilitator is engaged.
The role of a professional facilitator is to:
• Provide advice and guidance as to the set-up of the strategic planning process
• Help with any pre-workshop preparation
• Support, guide and keep the process and the workshop focused and on track
• Create a positive environment to bring out the best in those involved
• Encourage participants and make them feel comfortable in actively contributing
• Use appropriate ice-breakers and other activities where necessary to kick start the workshop and keep it moving whenever energy levels appear to be dropping off
• Ensure that any concerns and views of all participants are heard, discussed and actioned where necessary
• Ensure that any ideas are captured and built upon
• Challenge assumptions
• Bring in outside perspectives
• Ensure that the sessions within the workshop are well-structured and that each session has its own specific outcomes/deliverables that support the development of the overall plan
• Capture or oversee the capturing and documentation of agreed outputs
3. Get the Logistics of the Strategic Planning Workshop Right
Just like anything in life, when you want to achieve something important, it’s always best to do the little things well. In the case of Strategic Planning Workshops, those little things include getting the logistics right.
When selecting the location for the workshop, give consideration to what’s going to work best for the outcomes that you want to achieve and for those who are involved. Locations away from the office can be good for freeing up thinking and getting participants away from day-to-day issues that can often be obstacles to envisioning a new or grander future.
Whether the workshop is undertaken on-site or off-site, make sure that the facility is light/bright, well-aired, temperature appropriate and is set up to ensure that participants can see and interact freely and openly with each other.
Also make sure any tools that are likely to be required to support the process (eg. whiteboards, flip-charts, markers, lap-tops/tablets, digital screens, projectors) are arranged and tested prior to everyone’s arrival. It’s also a good idea to have back-up plans that can be used when something goes amiss (particularly IT 😊).
And, if break-out groups and rooms/areas are to be used, make sure that they are laid out appropriately and also have the necessary tools to support effective brainstorming, and the capturing of views and outcomes from the break-out group.
Also ensure that there are adequate breaks between and after sessions, and that relevant food and drink (particularly tea and coffee) is available to keep everyone nourished during the workshop.
4. Structure the Workshop Agenda to Support the Process and Delver and Actionable Plan with Clear Accountabilities
While no two business strategy workshops are ever likely to be exactly the same, a typical agenda will most likely include a number of the following sessions:
• Introductions and welcomes, scene setting, objectives, expectations, outcomes sought and house-keeping
• Some fun, light-hearted activities to engage the participants and to keep energy levels up, particularly at the start of the workshop and after breaks
• Having an outside speaker(s) to bring new perspectives and different insights
• The business’s current status, including key challenges
• The business’s desired future state
• Why the business exists
• Who the beneficiaries of the business’s efforts and enterprise are (eg. customers/ constituents/members, employees, shareholders)
• The 1 or 2 key measures to be used to assess and track the progress of the business against the value that is being delivered our beneficiaries
• The factors absolutely critical for the business to achieve its desired future state
• The business’s capabilities and strengths
• The business’s gaps and weaknesses, particularly gaps that will need to be addressed if the business is to achieve its aspirations
• Opportunities for the business to strengthen its position and accelerate its progress
• Risks and threats that may cause the business to be derailed if not addressed
• The 3 to 6 key strategic priorities of the business
• The allocation of accountabilities, actions and timelines to progress the key strategic priorities
• A wrap up summarising the issues covered during the workshop, outcomes/actions agreed and next steps
Typically, business strategy workshops will run from 1 to 1½ days. Sometimes, various team building activities are also included to take advantage of the fact that all team members are together at the same time, something that in today’s fast moving, global business world doesn’t happen very often.
It should also be noted that, while it is always a more conducive environment to have team members brought together in person for a strategy workshop, it is also possible for workshops to be run virtually.
5. Review and Refine the Plan
While the preparation and workshop phases of the development of strategic plans are critically important to get right, the post workshop execution/implementation phase is where “the rubber really hits the road”. Unfortunately, this phase is often the one that many businesses neglect or don’t pay sufficient attention to and is invariably the reason why the best laid plans don’t come to fruition or why progress is slower than desired. It is, however, the glue that holds the actionable plans together and is the mechanism for driving progress.
The first step of this phase is to document the outcomes and next steps from the strategy workshop.
Once this is done, those accountable for initiating and taking action to implement the plans agreed, should have these responsibilities included in their individual workplans for the period ahead.
The accountable team members should also break the initiatives down into more detailed project plans which become the basis for reviewing, monitoring, tracking and reporting progress.
The review process is typically best done through regular catch-ups (often weekly or fortnightly) between the accountable team member and their responsible Executive or Manager. These regular catch-ups can and should be supplemented with a quarterly review where all accountable team members provide summary updates on the status of their initiatives, including what’s been achieved, what’s progressing and still work in progress, any challenges that have emerged or are emerging, and what’s being done to overcome these challenges to keep their overall initiative(s) on track.
This process helps to establish a framework of accountability. It also ensures that the business strategy remains dynamic and current and is not something that once documented, is filed away and just gathers dust until it is reviewed at the next annual business planning session.
I hope this article provides some useful insights on how to develop and deliver an effective business strategy. So, just to reiterate, my 5 tips to developing and delivering an effective business strategy are:
1. Prepare fastidiously
2. Appoint a professional facilitator to support the process and lead the workshop
3. Get the workshop logistics right
4. Structure the workshop agenda to support the process and deliver an actionable plan with clear accountabilities
5. Review the plan individually and collectively
Strategy, Change Leadership and Business Transformation Specialist
If you would like to know more about Guy and his Strategy and Risk Management workshops, please visit this link.