By Juliet Ibili
With the year coming to an end, a lot of organisations are planning their strategy review sessions to strategise for the coming year. There is need to discuss the subject, so I am airing my thoughts based on my experience over the years.
Dictionary.com defines Strategy as “a method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem”. Strategy has to do with setting goals and defining actions to be taken to achieve the goals.
A strategy review session should therefore focus on what the goals are and what to do to bring about the achievement of such goals. In arriving at the goals, the organisation’s mission and vision is key. The goals must align with the organisation’s mission and vision.
Many ‘strategy’ meetings turn out to be boring because most of the time, these meetings are hardly about strategy. A lot of them are organised just to mark the fact that they had one. People attend only to fall asleep halfway through, a strategy meeting should not be boring, it should be lively and highly interactive. I have attended strategy sessions where the whole sessions were a waste of time and resources.
Most of such meetings agenda are filled with presentation of empty and unreliable information, setting of unrealistic targets, filling of disconnected templates probably just discovered somewhere or some other misrepresentation that only serves to waste time.
Strategy is about making the difficult choices around how you’re going to run your organization and how you’re going to make a difference. Just having a good strategy is not enough. It is how you execute the strategy that separates successful organizations and organizations that just drag along from year to year or fail enormously.
Winston Churchill said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
And that is what an effective strategy review meeting is all about, seeing how you’re doing on the strategy and making the changes necessary to set things right where necessary.
Effective Strategy Review Session
Firstly, note that your strategy should drive the agenda. The focus of the meeting should be your strategy, and nothing else. Cover the issues that are critical and acknowledge those that are on track. Stay focused on strategy and don’t let the meeting get derailed by operational issues. The flow should be where are we compared to where we want to be, why are we not where we want to be, what should we do differently? All should be on a strategic level. It should not be a time for anyone to raise a non-strategic matter just because top management is present and they want to use the opportunity to talk about it.
Secondly, send out the agenda, templates and guidelines ahead of the session. For you to have a good meeting, you have to plan it. Establish the objectives of the meeting and send the information out before the meeting happens and make sure people have time to review it and prepare for the meeting. A lot of time is wasted making corrections in most strategy meetings where people come ill-prepared or with wrong output.
Once the notice and agenda is distributed with enough time for preparation, there should be no room for excuses on why people should come unprepared to the meeting. If Possible ask for submission of presentations before the meeting date, so the submissions can be reviewed for appropriateness.
Thirdly, appoint an experienced facilitator. To achieve result at strategy sessions, you need to have an experienced and firm facilitator to ensure everybody is on track and there is no digression. The facilitator can be internal or external. If internal, he or she should be high enough in the ranks to be respected or obeyed at the session. It should not be one that is afraid or can be intimidated. The facilitator should have the power to stop anybody that is going off-track, unnecessary arguments and time wasting discussions. If people have put aside everything else to come for the session, then there should be focus to ensure the objective of the session is achieved. If the meeting gets off track and the issue is important, record it and schedule another meeting if necessary to discuss that issue or at best set it as the last item after everything else, if there is time.
Fourthly, Involve Everyone. A major error experienced in strategy setting and review is the fact that most strategy session contents come from top managers, who put together presentations to make at the review session. Also after the session, they just come back and dish out orders without carrying the team along. There is need at the department level to involve the entire team, get their contribution and let them be part of the process. After the session, also let them know the resolution and why you do what you do. Getting the Heads to involve their team will lead to more participation and enthusiasm to make sure the strategy succeeds.
Fifthly, document your resolutions. All that is discussed must be documented. Apart from the general minutes, there should be a record of what was discussed and what decisions were made. Also note who is responsible for what and when the action item is supposed to be completed. At the end of the meeting read through or distribute all the decisions made to all in attendance, or those with responsibilities.
Lastly, but very importantly, follow up on all decisions made. In some organizations every strategy session is the same, almost the same agenda, just copy and paste then add one or two items. All the resolutions made at the last session is totally forgotten, a lot of them not done because after each session everybody goes back to doing exactly what they were doing before the session. There is need to make the strategy unit or someone responsible to monitor and report the achievement or otherwise of agreed items. This should form part of the report and a starting point for the next session.
If we start putting strategy and strategy maps at the center of our strategy session, we will see a transformation of the sessions moving from just formality to a session where forward moving decisions are made and everyone goes back fired up to do their part in ensuring the achievement of set goals.
Ibili is the Managing Director, Divinef Hallmark Limited (Management Consulting)