Why you need a strategy day

When did you last read you strategy plan?  In fact, when did anyone else recently read your strategy plan?  Is it locked away in a folder, ignored and languishing?  The day job sometimes gets in the way of pausing to think about the bolder ambitions you set out to achieve, and this dramatically slows down your ability to implement change.  For those of us who run multiple teams, this is even more important.  You know where you want your business to be in 3-5 years’ time.  You assume the team knows.  You assume that their own plans and strategies are working in the same direction.  You assume no-one is working at cross-purposes, or heading down rabbit holes.  So to make sure that you are all heading in the right direction at the same velocity, you need a strategy day!

I run a number of different teams, with different goals and objectives, targets, measures and purposes.  What they all have in common is a responsibility to enhance the customer experience, remove barriers in the customer journey, and drive business growth through engaged and delighted customers.  Given the diversity of their responsibility, I decided to set up a strategy day, for us to come together, share our plans, ensure alignment and support each other in achieving all plans.

I tasked each team to capture where we will be in 3 years’ time, parking for now, how we will get there.  I asked them to let their mind run riot, and imagine the boldest possible outcome.  For some colleagues, this was a scary prospect, having always followed someone else’s plan.  For some, with a new function, this was a challenge as they felt unfamiliar with “what great will look like”.  Nevertheless, a week before the strategy day, everyone shared their strategy with each other, so that we could all read through and digest, and come prepared with questions and useful input.

For me, it was a real “proud dad” moment to see just how courageous and inventive my team are.  Their brilliance shone through, and affirmed that I have exceptional people.  It also affirmed that the message I believed I was delivering had been heard and understood.  Despite the differences between the functions, very clear themes around empowering people, delighting customers, growing revenue and making decisions based on data came through loud & clear.

For our strategy day, we chose to go out of the office, hiring a funky space for a nominal fee.  It felt important to step out of our day to day environment, so as to have a clear head on our plans.  It depends on your team, your various locations and your office environment, but for us (in very operational roles), a clean space to think was very helpful.  It doesn’t need to be an expensive location – decent coffee, a flip chart and natural light were the main criteria! We started out by walking through my vision, and taking a look at a very good example of a business purpose.  This set the tone for what we wanted to achieve, and got us thinking customer first.

Next, we walked through the highlights of each strategy, encouraging each other to give open and constructive feedback.  We talked through dependencies (other teams, technology, resource, cost, etc.)  We then focused on how each strategy dovetailed with each other, and drilled a little into any obvious gaps. We talked about businesses that we admire, and mulled over how we might deliver the same level of delight.  As the day drew to a close, we agreed to build a common milestone plan for the next two years that would be used to educate and engage our seniors and teams in our overall strategy.  We also agreed that each participant needed to rely on other colleagues around the table to achieve their strategy, and agreed on the headline areas where there would be collaborative effort.

To celebrate an amazingly successful day, we headed out for a meal, to bond and make personal connections, further cementing the team culture.  It was a fun but mentally demanding day, with a lot more thinking and talking required as a team.  I learned that I need to change my communication style to suit each team member, and make more time to support my people in achieving their aspirations.  I was also reminded that the greatest leadership trait is humility – seeing the complex skills and bold visions of my team made me realise how much I respect and value them.  The overall benefit of the strategy was not only to define a common future vision, but to bring us closer together as a team.

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