Posted on February 21, 2014

3 Ways to Get Your Strategy Meetings Back on Track

Every leader knows that a good strategy is the key to their organization’s success, but many struggle with creating one. Often, the output of the weekly or monthly strategy meeting becomes a list of initiatives and goals with no clear path to accomplish them. Most executives are juggling so many different responsibilities that they only have limited time to spend on strategy; therefore, that time must be spent wisely. Make your strategy meetings more effective by following these three best practices:

1. Structure your strategy

A strategy is more than a list of objectives. The basic structure of a good strategy has three main parts: a diagnosis, a guiding policy and a set of coherent actions.

* Diagnosis: Identify the challenge. Understanding the issue at hand is crucial to creating a strategy. If you don’t understand the problem, how will you come up with a solution?
Example: Our turnover rate has doubled over the past year, leading to increased expenses.
* Guiding policy: Develop an overall approach to treat the diagnosis, including a measurable outcome.
Example: Reduce our turnover rate by 50% by increasing employee engagement and satisfaction.
* Coherent actions: Decide on steps that are coordinated with each other to achieve the guiding policy.
Example: Devote more HR resources to employee engagement initiatives, instead of administrative work.

2. Communicate effectively

As you’re working to develop strategies, odds are you will have to work with other stakeholders. Here are some ways to optimize your communication with others on your team:

Set a recurring meeting for 2-4 hours every week or two to focus on strategy. Require each person attending the meeting to lead the discussion on one or two agenda items to promote accountability.

Celebrate successes and review failures. Oftentimes, the failures provide the best insights into how to improve.

Have data at the ready. It’s difficult to make strategic decisions if you have to wait a week for someone to pull the data you need. Using a cloud-based custom reporting tool can put the necessary information at your fingertips.

Use experiential exercises to get everyone involved. Instead of relying only on slides or reports to guide your team through the meeting, use an exercise to get them thinking and participating. Take, for example, the story of a strategist at a shoe manufacturer. He wanted to show the executive team that his company’s products were both unattractive and expensive. Instead of creating a run-of-the-mill presentation to illustrate his point, he made a two-by-two matrix of attractiveness vs. price using masking tape on the floor of the executive suite, and real shoes from the company and its competitors. The executives had to classify the shoes on the matrix right there and then—and he made his point.

3. Set an agenda

If you’re planning to start a recurring strategy meeting with your team, here is a sample agenda:

1. Celebrate successes that have taken place since the last meeting

2. Debrief on any failures
* Examine what could have been done differently.
* Summarize takeaways.
* Decide on action items, if any.

3. Round robin of key topics (each team member discusses a topic; incorporate experiential exercises if applicable)

4. Summary of any issues that need immediate action, and for each:
* Diagnose the issue.
* Decide on the guiding policy.
* Outline coherent actions and assign to a group/person with specific deliverables and deadlines.
(Schedule an additional meeting with a smaller group if necessary)

Following the tips listed here will help you make the most of the time you get to spend on strategic thinking and help you lead your organization more confidently into the future.

*For more actionable advice on creating great strategies, download the whitepaper 7 Steps to Becoming an Expert Strategist.


Sources: Paul Schoemaker (Inc.com), Richard Rumelt (McKinsey Quarterly), Michael Birshan and Jayanti Kar (McKinsey Quarterly)