Defining your strategy. How to start the conversation

Recently we were asked by a client to help bring the board and organisation into a conversation around strategy. Within the leadership team there was a heightened sense of tension and opposing priorities. The narrative for some was “we just need to do what we do really well” while others were fixed to the narrative “we need to grow”. Part of facilitating these discussions is to decide on how to start this kind of conversation off on the best foot and to get to an end point where everyone is on the same page.

Gather all the information. Get educated first.

In these situations, when tension is high, and people have differing positions on what they think the strategy should be, I find it to helpful to start off with a discussion around gathering information. Before everyone has their say on what they feel the strategy should be, it helps to get clear on what we know and need to know, first. This is particularly powerful as it encourages people to remain in an ‘open’ mindset. Having the strategy conversation upfront, particularly with so many differing perspectives at play can lead a situation which quickly spirals into a hostile playing field, full of arguments and frustrations. Once people state what they think the strategy should be early on, it is human nature to have an increased need to stand by that statement, to defend the position and have a tendency to remain ‘fixed’ in their point of view and be less likely to be flexible to shift their mindset. Instead of focusing on exploring what the right strategy could look like, people focus on arguing for their position and look for evidence to support their position. It can lead to more friction than is necessary.

Alternatively, asking everyone what we need to know before we define our strategy, will keep everyone open and minimise tension. It’s an approach that provides the foundation for a unified and constructive conversation. Focusing on sharing information and educating each other, encourages participants to remain open and agreeable when the conversation shifts to defining the strategy. There’s a greater sense of shared purpose and a united team. During this discussion, you would look at such things as profit and loss, financial forecasts, product development, optimum utilisation of resources, staff and technology etc; all the things the team needs to know in order to make a decision on strategy.

Once we have educated ourselves, we are in a better position to look at our situation through a number of emerging future frames, (designed and developed by Samurai Associates);

  1. What are the key and relevant emerging dynamic forces at play within the environment in which we operate? What sort of opportunities and threats do we face, in our industry, in our market, in the world that will affect our business or that we can leverage?
  2. What is our direction or north star? Where do we see ourselves in 3-5 years time? And what are the key building blocks of our future business? How can we use these dynamic forces to evolve into the future?
  3. What are current strengths or our bright spots? When we are faced with things we need to change, we are compelled to look at the surrounding information and issues contributing to the problem to try to fix it. There is often a complex web of issues that need to be dealt with to fix any one problem. When you need to change, this way of looking at problems can leave us feeling overwhelmed, demotivated and inactive, as the steps to ‘fix’ the problem are just too numerous, to complex or too big to deal with. Looking outwards to find a ‘bright spot’ is a refreshing and more effective approach and one that most importantly, gets results. What works for us before or elsewhere and how can we do more of it? What can we build from? What are our strengths? What energises us? What wouldn’t we want to lose or diminish? As you may have experienced, talking about the future and where you want to be can be exciting and uniting. However, at a certain stage in the discussion it reaches a point of diminishing returns and you need to get back to where you currently are, which leads to the next future frame…
  4. What are our hot spots? Exploring the challenges to our business is vitally important in this discussion too. What holds us back, drains our energy, destroys our value? What are the mindsets, cultural beliefs, trends and threats that are getting in the way and making progress difficult?
  5. What are the chess moves we need to make? How can we move from the here and now into the future? What are the stepping stones or pathways to get to where we want to be? During this discussion, the focus in on identifying the ‘quick wins’ and the steps to take/ relationships to develop in order to accelerate this progression over the next 1-3 years.
  6. What are the specific attributes or capabilities we need to develop, harness and embrace in order to evolve and thrive? Do we buy them, recruit them? What technology, what budget, how many resources are needed etc.
  7. Explore and identify all the risks, traps, speedbumps and potholes that we can either clearly see or anticipate may be possible and need to avoid.
  8. What are the simple rules or guiding principles that will align us to our direction, challenge us to connect, think, work and organise differently? What will push us to be the best version of ourselves, make us raise the bar, and interrupt our cultural habits to help us make future-back decisions?

Having worked through looking at your business through these future frames, you are in a better position to move the conversation through to the next stage. This is where break through questions come into play. Breakthrough questions spark genuine curiosity. They are genuine questions and ones we don’t already know the answer to or have no obvious answer. I’ll go more into that next time. Stay tuned.

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

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