Pop quiz: Can you define business strategy? Right now, without googling?
Most of us can’t, which probably explains why so few “strategy meetings” and “strategic planning sessions” actually lead to a new strategy.
Harvard Business Review defines business strategy as “a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making. A strategy is therefore about how people throughout the organization should make decisions and allocate resources in order to accomplish key goals.” In other words, given all your options, what set of choices will you make to achieve your goal?
Now that you have a better picture of what strategy actually is, you can see why many so-called strategic planning sessions miss the mark. They’re often:
- Too tactical. Strategy is about the how, not the what. But many strategy meetings turn into generating lists of tasks or tactical plans to accomplish a goal. Those meetings may well have their place, but they should happen after you have an established strategy.
- Too abstract. Strategy meetings also suffer from the opposite problem. They are too high level, focused on coming up with a company vision or goals. It’s easy to confuse vision and strategy, but the vision is what the end result will look like. You need to have your vision and goals before you can figure out what levers to pull to get there.
- An unfocused brainstorming session. There’s nothing wrong with brainstorming with your team. But these meetings — usually pizza-fueled free-for-alls where everyone is encouraged to come up with ideas — are not strategy sessions either.
Okay, so that’s how to get strategy sessions wrong. How can you do them right? Let’s get a little meta here and discuss a strategy for your strategy meetings.
Don’t just focus on yourself
Many business leaders get this first step wrong, and start instead with a focus on themselves. But your strategy should be about how your business or team is going to achieve a high-level goal. And your first step will be to get a clear picture of all the external elements at play.
What are your competitors doing? What are the unique market conditions? Who are your customers and what do they want, now and in the future?
This kind of business intelligence will help you set the right strategy. Do this homework before your actual strategy meeting.
Figure out where you’re going to play and how you’re going to play.
Whether you’re developing a strategy for your own function, team, or company as a whole, you need to assess all the options available to you along with your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.
With this information you can answer these two important strategy questions as outlined by Roger L. Martin in the article, Five Questions to Build a Strategy:
- Across the potential field available to you, where will you choose to play and not to play?
- How will you choose to win against your competitors in those areas?
Determine where to allocate resources for the greatest strategic benefit.
Now you should have better sense of which projects and teams to prioritize, and where to place your limited resources, to give your company the greatest chance of meeting the strategic goals you’ve outlined.
At this stage, you will probably have to make some difficult decisions — like shelving interesting but low-priority projects — because strategic success is all about narrowing your focus and prioritizing resources away from initiatives that don’t offer a substantial strategic return on investment.
Decide what success will look like — and measure your strategy against it regularly.
Identify the metrics your team will monitor to see if you’ve rolled out the right strategy and are implementing it successfully.
The only way to know if your strategy is working is to put in place a set of concrete criteria and milestones to measure it against. If, after rolling out your new strategy, you review these metrics and find your team is succeeding, that’s great! Keep doing what you’re doing.
If you find that your strategy isn’t producing the results you were hoping for? Time for another strategy meeting.
So the next time you need to strategize, just remember: do your homework beforehand, stay away from listing tasks, prioritize resources and determine how to measure success. Stick to those rules and you’ll get way more out of your next strategy meeting.