Making a decision to engage a professional to help develop your strategy may seem like a lavish investment, yet here are some common pitfalls to avoid with the do-it-yourself approach.
- Wearing too Many Hats. For groups that convene to engage in strategy development someone has to take the process leader or facilitator role. We typically see two options tried before we are invited in to the process. The first is the leader – the CEO, President or sometimes the Board Chair – as the facilitator. The second is a member of the leadership team that has process training or planning experience. Both options can sub optimize your planning product.
If the leader takes on the facilitator role their permanent role as “boss” casts a shadow on their temporary role of process leader - even when their leadership style is one of openness and collaboration. For many the risk factor in crafting thinking in real time with their boss is too high. This real or perceived risk decreases the safety necessary for a creative session and ultimately reduces the development of new or emerging ideas. This guarded mind-set is exactly the opposite of what a leader wants and can be very frustrating. However, it is virtually impossible to remove the leader hat when you put on the facilitator hat.
The other option, a member of the team stepping up to take on the process leadership role, also has its pitfalls. One is the perception that this role gives that person more influence over the outcomes of the planning process. Even when the internal facilitator acts as neutral as possible in every way. This is true in part because of the second pitfall for the team member as process facilitator. By taking on the facilitation role, that team member is not an active participant in the strategy development discussions. Their perspective, experience and value to the team can be lost when they are wearing their facilitator hat. If they take that hat off and actively participate in the discussion, then the meeting process suffers. It is just too hard to stay on top of the process and indulge in the discussions without letting go of the focus on the agenda. Meetings run over the time scheduled or fail to cover as much ground as planned when all stakeholders participate.
- Maintaining the Status Quo. Internally facilitated strategy sessions often focus on incremental thinking – year over year performance reviews – current customer satisfaction metrics or feedback – or at best analysis of known competitors. It is great to have time for deeper discussions of the current goals and performance, but it is going to be very hard to find new insights that will take your strategic thinking to the next level if that is how 100% of your time is used. Too often a strategy development agenda set by the current stakeholders reflects the challenges faced in executing your current strategy and little if any dedicated to stimulating new thinking.
We have seen many valiant efforts to bring in speakers or assign pre-reading materials to stimulate thinking, but they often fall short of their potential impact because they are not well integrated into the design of the session. Planning discussions, like water, seek their own level unless significant effort is applied. Understandable that natural level is usually where people’s minds are focused – managing the current issues. Without experienced strategy development design, conversations will gravitate to the highly familiar territory and so will the plan.
- A Lack of Enthusiasm. Strategy development is the most creative work leaderships team get to do together – rather it should be – and it should be fun! However, too often a poorly executed strategic thinking can get out of hand, becoming chaotic and in the end unproductive. When this happens, participants grow cynical and express frustration with having to dedicate their time to yet another (unproductive and boring) strategy session. They would rather opt out and spend the time planning with their own teams or staying put in their own office addressing the real issues of the day. To put it mildly, they are unenthusiastic about planning.
We find that when the expectations for a strategy session are so low it is because the process has not been productive in the prior sessions. Participants want to do the work, but it also has to pay off for them. As professionals, we are acutely aware of the investment our clients make when they engage in strategy development. I don’t mean just the direct cost of paying for the expenses and our fees – I mean the indirect investment made by every participant and the collective investment the company makes to take everyone off line for two or three (or more) days. Thinking you are wisely using your resources by doing it yourself can often result in a lackluster planning product.
We understand that these pitfalls are not impossible to overcome if you lead your own strategy development process, but they are important to discuss and plan to address if any of this rings true for your organization. However, if in your evaluation, it is time to bring in a professional, we have a number of options for you.
If you are large enough or your strategic decisions stakes are high, contact us about engaging in a comprehensive planning process like Strategy Summit™. For smaller companies, non-profits or departments of a larger organization, we now offer an abbreviate strategy solution called Strategy Boost™. If you still need to take the DIY route, take advantage of the tools in Strategy Class™ and sign up for our newsletter so we can continue to support you with insights, tools and trainings. Our mission is to make strategy possible for everyone!