When designing strategy workshops and processes for our clients, we often experience disagreement among executives whether the company has a strategy or not. While at first one might be puzzled by this finding, digging a bit deeper, usually in 1:1 interviews as a preparation for the first meeting or workshop, we often discover that the problem lies with the definitions individual managers have of what a strategy is.
Some might say, 'We have a strategy', but really what they mean is that strategic objectives or priorities say 'Grow in North America' or 'Defend our position in Europe', have been defined. Others might counter to this, 'We don’t have a strategy' because to them it’s unclear how to achieve such objectives.
What can you do to solve the mystery?
To help executives, and us, make sense of these seemingly contradictory positions, we developed a very short survey, called 'The Strategy Quiz'. We do this assessment either during interviews or workshops to quickly surface what parts of the strategy are clear and which ones need to be worked on.
Here are the five statements we have executives evaluate on a scale from 'strongly disagree' to 'strongly agree'.
- We have a clear and common understanding about the current situation, e.g. SWOT, competitive landscape, we have identified the strategic challenges we face,…
- We have a compelling vision for where to take our company in the next 5–10 years.
- We have a clear and common understanding of the strategic directions & goals for the next 3 years. i.e. Where to play? How to win? What products & services to offer? How to create value for customer? What to achieve in terms of clients, revenues, etc.
- We have a clear and common understanding as to how to achieve our strategic goals? We have defined steps, or a sequence of strategic moves.
- We have a clear plan on how to implement our strategy. Company strategy is broken down into functional strategies. Who does what when, with which result,…
The statements are pretty straightforward and people can easily relate to them. You probably noticed how they address various steps in a typical strategy process.
The assessment will not only give you an indication of the areas that might need to be worked on, but also whether within a certain dimension there is alignment or not. Consider the example below from an actual client.
As one can easily see, the management team has no clear opinion on any of these components of their strategy. In such a case the priority is obviously to review each area and surface all the opinions and reach an agreement. An open discussion very often is all that is needed. People will often say something, like 'Well we kind of have this, but…'. That’s fine. Don’t worry too much about where they land on the evaluation. Just pay attention to what they are saying, which areas seem to be clear and which unclear.
To dig a little deeper, and as a preparation for our work, we would ask executives to elaborate on the most important strategic challenges and problems to solve. The result might look something like below.
Based on this assessment and our conversations a resulting synthesis might look like this.
Such a summary then leads to your objectives for the strategy work.
These objectives provide a clear direction for how to approach the strategy work within your company. A first short meeting design to get the process started might look like the one below.
While the questions might be too big to be answered in a 1 day meeting, discussing all the elements will give you and the executive team a good feeling for where they stand, what they know, don’t know, agree on or do not agree on. These insights will then guide the following steps.