I am just getting back from London after facilitating a three-day strategy session with one of my client’s Board. Thankfully, it was an exceptional meeting and the seemingly large amount of work and tough decisions that had to be tackled were completed well, even with an element of grace.
So today I wanted to reflect on what made the session go so well. The fact is that there were a lot or reasons including the quality of the Board members and much of the pre-work that went into the event. But beyond that I just want to share a few salient seemingly random items that really helped in the facilitation of the session.
First, we started off the meeting with a commitment to Shoshin, or what the Zen Buddhists refer to as the ‘Beginners Mind’ that is to say, a stripping of preconceived conceptions and positions to a true attitude of openness and eagerness to explore. This approach although sounding warm and fuzzy really opened up the intellectual pursuit of analyzing the market with fresh eyes and being open to the solutions that would help the organization embrace the new territories ahead.. This was critical as so many times executives think they are innovative or charting a new course when all they are really doing is rearranging things or putting band-aids on top of band-aids never questioning the paradigm in which they are operating.
This openness helped the group have better dialogue and robust conversations. And although we used a variety of tools and models to help process the multitude of information, I also observed as key was that the tools were secondary to the quality of the conversation and analysis. Strategy-making teams often turn the SWOT analysis or the Hedgehog model into ends in themselves as opposed to tools of focus and evaluation.
And I cannot forget a small item that had significant impact on the quality of the retreat. It is something that comes up a lot these days. How many times in conversations do you hear “it is just a matter of semantics?” This is especially true when it comes to people’s definitions of terms like Mission and Vision. It can get really confusing with terms such as Strategy, Strategic Plan, Strategic Imperatives, Strategic Direction, Strategic Objectives, Strategic enter word of your choice here. So in a preemptive move we came to agreement on what those terms meant to this team. This helped to shed the many wasteful conversations than would have been had. In addition to the definitions we were very clear about what the horizon line was for each term, i.e. 1 year, 2.5 years or 10 years and beyond. This activity anchored the fruitful conversations to come.
After all was said and done with the new strategic imperatives, we had actually one more question to ask that would help us uncover the glue that was needed for the execution: “Where is the hope and excitement in this plan?” It is very important to grasp this and build it into the works. Without answering this question, the organizational execution becomes harder as there must be a compelling reason for the follow through.