For many CEOs and business owners, finding the time to spend on their business, and not just in their business is a challenge. My experience as the CEO of a mid-size company was similar. I knew my leadership team needed time away from the business to work on the business. For us, the catalyst was strategy planning. One of the most important outcomes of the process was culture change. How we developed and implemented the strategic plan unlocked new levels of accountability and engagement that we needed to drive our growth forward.
85% of leadership teams spend less than an hour per month discussing strategy
Authors Robert Kaplan and David Norton discuss this finding in their book, The Balanced Scorecard.
To put it in perspective, your team is likely spending more time going to Starbucks each month than developing strategies to improve your profitability.
I can relate. Several years ago, I had taken over as CEO of a mature mid-size company. My executive team was a talented mix of new and veteran leaders, each with different agendas. They were working hard and moving in a lot of different directions dealing with customers, operations, and internal issues. Our days were busy solving problems and putting out fires. Financial results were good in some areas, but lagging in others. If my team was rowing a boat, we would probably have gone in circles.
I knew we needed to carve out time away from the business to work on the business. The catalyst was strategy planning.
Although I had successfully led strategic planning initiatives at prior companies, I needed someone else to spearhead so that I could be a contributor alongside my team. I engaged a strategy planning consultant to guide us through the process. We selected a facilitator who was flexible, adapted to our timetable, and had mid-size company experience.
Phase one was Research. Spending time upfront was critical to develop an analysis of our customers, key stakeholders, and understand their needs.
The team used the data to take a step back and see the big picture. We put a spotlight on customer feedback. We spoke with different buyers to understand their needs, identify where we were exceeding expectations, and hear where we were falling short.
Phase two was a Strategy Offsite. Putting dates on the calendar — with plenty of advanced notice — sent a clear message that Tyranny of Now was not invited to attend.
I scheduled a two-day offsite meeting. Participants included my executive team and several high potential middle managers. Being inclusive provided great exposure for the emerging leaders and broadened our diversity of thinking during the sessions. To quote author Simon Sinek, we “started with why.” The energizing discussions aligned the group around a vision for the business. Additionally, we identified “what” we wanted to accomplish — a small number of SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals. And then we did the really heavy lifting…we spelled out “how” we were going to accomplish these goals by defining strategies and action plans to support each goal. Essentially, we established a common language for management so we were clear about priorities and how we were going to roll-out to our teams.
Phase three was Operationalize. Tying the Strategic Plan to our performance management system drove accountability and alignment throughout the organization.
As a key deliverable from the offsite, we developed a Strategy and Operations Plan that identified who was responsible, timing, and expectations. The plan was communicated and cascaded throughout the organization through a series of larger and smaller group meetings. Our executive team and middle managers clearly articulated how all of the departments and teams tied with the plan and how they were accountable to achieve target results. For the next fiscal year, we implemented company and employee performance goals which laddered up to the Strategic Plan.
Having a Strategic Plan made a positive impact on our culture almost immediately.
People felt engaged and appreciated the communications and clarity of direction and roles. One of my VPs took on the responsibility of working with the other leaders to update the Strategic Plan on a quarterly basis for progress reviews. Our progress was celebrated and reinforced throughout the year, especially as our financial results improved.
Overall, having the skills of an outside consultant to jumpstart our process was invaluable.
Getting our oars rowing in the same direction was well worth our investment of time and resources. As the CEO, I was highly invested in the process and our success. Years later this journey inspired me to launch a growth consulting firm for mid-size companies. In full circle, now I am a catalyst for busy leaders to spend time on the business and jumpstart their strategic plan.
About Laurie Barkman:
Laurie Barkman is the founder and chief executive of SmallDotBig, a growth advisory firm. With more than 25 years of experience as a CEO and revenue generation leader, she works with entrepreneurs and business leaders to accelerate their success. Contact Laurie at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss strategic planning and growth initiatives.