How to Define Strategy
Creating a Shared View of Objectives
By Pam Kennett
A business's strategy should be evolving and changing to keep pace with environmental, political and economic changes. A key skill for any business consultant working with a top team is the ability to help them clarify and define this strategy.
Opportunities, Threats and Risks
As a starting point, focus on the external factors facing the
business or part of the business you are working with ' that is, what
are the opportunities, threats and risks to the business. An example
might be a change in mortgage lending which presents an opportunity for
your business as a property developer. Or it could be a major home
builder moving into your geography which directly threatens your
business. This should be done as a brainstorm exercise to generate as
much contribution and engagement as possible.
After this, prioritise each issue using a 2 x 2 matrix with "What is potential likelihood" on the vertical axis (low to high) and "How relevant is it?" (low to high) on the horizontal axis.
Once the highly relevant issues which have a high potential of occurring (that is, the top right hand corner of the matrix) have been prioritized by the group, discuss each in terms of: What is it? How relevant is it? Why is it relevant? What is the potential likelihood?
Strengths, Weaknesses and Gaps
Now move to the internal factors impacting the business. Brainstorm
the major internal factors facing the business or part of the business.
An internal strength might be the technical skills of your team or your
well established sales processes.
Next, prioritise each factor again using a 2 x 2 matrix with the "How strong or weak" (low to high) on the vertical axis and "How important is it?" (low to high) on the horizontal axis.
Once the important, 'strong' factors have been identified discuss each in terms of: What is it? Why is it relevant? What is its' potential impact?
The first two steps are very like a SWOT analysis except that each factor is prioritized and each of the top priority factors discussed. This discussion enables the team to share their concerns and expectations for the future, something which gets missed if you merely brainstorm.
Critical Success Factors
After the prioritized SWOT focus on the critical success factors,
that is, what must we as a business get right over the next 2 to 3 years
to be successful. At this stage, to ensure that the focus is still a
strategic one, it is important to address the external threats and
opportunities (that is, step 1) when thinking about the CSFs.
After brainstorming, discuss each CSF ' why people see it as important and the implications to the business of each. After the discussion undertake some prioritization exercise such as nominal group technique (NGT). NGT usually consists of allocating 3 votes to each individual and they are free to allocate those votes as they see fit. They can allocate 3 to one factor or distribute one vote for to each of three factors.
A critical component of a strategy workshop must also address 'how'
people will work together, not just what they will work on. Where the
CSF's are aligned to the external factors, the Values tend to be aligned
to the internal factors (no. 2). These values are what unites top teams
during difficult or stressful times.
To do this, brainstorm the following: "in your opinion, what must we value (believe in) as a business to achieve this success?"
Discuss each value: What does this mean? Why is it important? What does it look like? ' how would you role model this to others
Agree and prioritise the top half dozen or so values using a prioritization technique such as NGT.
Ask the group, how do these values match current values? What do we need to do differently to achieve these values?
Key Organisation Design Criteria
As part of a strategy workshop it is important to think through how
resources should be organized to exploit opportunities, fight off
threats from competitors and make best use of our strengths. Although
designing an organization usually requires technical expertise in job
design, the responsibility for defining what type of organization we
want to create and work within belongs with the top team.
Brainstorm the following question: "in your opinion, what are critical organization design issues re structure, processes, roles, performance management, reporting etc?"
At this stage it is important to think about the ideal future organization and not the existing organisation. Think about the major work processes and how this work should be organized ' eg if we need to be more customer focused should we organize our teams around our major customers and their concerns.
Discuss each criterion: Why? Implications?
Prioritise if needed, identifying the major enablers.
Key Strategic Drivers
As a summary, ask the following question: "What are the 2 to 4 key
strategic drivers for the organization over the next 2 to 3 years?"
This is best done in silence as it gives individuals a chance to reflect over what has been before ' the SWOT, the CSFs, the Values, the Organisation Design criteria.
List everyone's first driver, then discuss implications List everyone's second driver, then discuss.
Generate a summary statement: shared view of objectives (goals) over next 2 to 3 years by the individual or as a group.
About the Author
Pam Kennett is Founder and Director of Chiswick Consulting Limited a
management consultancy which provides advice and direction to clients in
marketing and human resources. For more information on top team and
strategy workshops contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit