How not to run a two day strategy session [Boring your people to Death by PowerPoint]

An envelope arrives, a letter inviting you to a two-day strategy session for your department.  What’s your reaction? Based on our experience, you will probably groan. One reason you will groan is too many senior managers think a strategy session means locking you in a room for two days and bombarding you with PowerPoint slides.

“I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Blaise Pascal

When we ask senior managers why they do this? They explain it is vital to make sure the managers create strategy that fits the broader company strategy. And of course we cannot disagree with this objective. However, let’s pause for a moment and ask a question…what is one of the biggest challenges in strategy? The biggest problem is implementing strategy.

If you accept that implementing strategy is often a big problem, then let’s consider another question. To implement strategy better, does the audience need more information or does the audience need more motivation?

In our experience, it’s rare an audience needs more information and it’s common an audience needs more motivation. When we say the audience needs more motivation; they are usually interested in the strategy, but if we bombard them continuously with PowerPoint then the audience are not involved.

Let’s assume as a senior manager you bring along the strategy and all you want is to get the group involved in implementing strategy. How can you do that?

First, create a strategy on a page or on a single slide. When we say a strategy on a page, we don’t mean a page of tiny 8 point text that is unreadable, (at least unreadable without binoculars.) We mean a reasonable amount of text in a readable font, ideally no smaller than 14 point. It takes time to get a strategy on a page. But it will save your employees far more time and will increase the chances your strategy will be implemented successfully.

[ASIDE: Of course, some managers will argue they cannot fit their strategy on a page.  May we diplomatically suggest that perhaps this is not a strategy? It might be an action plan or a list of objectives or something else. But it is not a strategy.

A couple of quick elements that should be part of the strategy:

What will the company not do?

What will the company do?

Unfortunately, too many strategies do not clearly define what you will not do. So, some company’s strategy is to satisfy as many kinds of customer in as many ways as possible. But this is not a strategy because it does not give direction to employees and it does not help employees set priorities. That’s enough of an aside, back to the process.]

Second, ask the participants: What are the biggest challenges to implementing your strategy? Get the brains in the room to think about the challenges. Give the participants 30 minutes to work as a table and produce a flip chart answering the question.

Third get them to work as a table and create action plans to overcome the challenges.

A good strategy session should be where the participants spend at least 75% of the time discussing and debating between themselves and at the most 25% listening to the senior manager present.

Do this and you will find you have a motivated and energised group who are ready and willing to implement your strategy. Don’t do this and you will finish with sleepy, goggle-eyed participants with no commitment to your strategy. In business and in strategy, you have choices and consequences.  May you make good choices and enjoy good consequences.

“Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices.”

Alfred A. Montapert

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