One of the most admired qualities in business leaders is the capacity to be decisive – to communicate clearly what has to be done and to follow through with courage and conviction.
The assumption, of course, is that the strategy being implemented is the right one. It may not be. The danger with naturally action orientated leaders is that they do not balance a capacity for decisiveness with the need for reflection, patience, involvement by stakeholders, and above all open-mindedness at the strategy formulation stage.
Good strategists tend not to have big egos, or at least they put their egos ‘on hold’ during strategy development ! With this in mind the following is a useful step by step process for strategy development:
1. Assemble a diverse team, in terms of background, creativity, attitude to risk. Try to have all perspectives represented. Operational management, those who will own implementation must not be omitted.
Ideally go ‘offsite’ for at least the first strategy brainstorming session. It is important to be away from normal work distractions. Plan to have more than one session. The most senior person should not Chair the discussion. Consider using an outside facilitator.
2. Communicate the ground rules to attendees in advance and stick to them. Suggest that these include :
– The minimum number of strategic options to be considered, which should be mutually exclusive. There should be at least 3 options but more is better.
– The current strategy is to be one of the options, so that its strengths and weaknesses can be explored. If weaknesses are exposed in the status quo it will open minds to new possibilities.
– Through reflection on current issues each member of the team should be required to sketch out some possible strategies at the session to increase the number of possibilities for initial consideration.
– During option development there will be NO discussion of the relative merits of each option. To do otherwise would be to risk not giving enough time to identifying possibilities.
– Option review will look separately at internal strengths/weaknesses, and outside opportunities so that both an internal and external focus is brought to bear.
3. Generate a list of possible strategies based on the above ground rules.
4. Ask what circumstances need to prevail for each strategic option to be viable. Everybody should be in agreement as to what these conditions would need to be. It will then be possible to discuss the realism of the conditions and determine which are least likely to hold true. Conditions will relate to industry trends, evolving customer requirements, operational capabilities and competitor analysis.
5. Devise and conduct tests for each of the conditions, to establish to everyone’s satisfaction whether the relevant condition holds true. Start with conditions that are least likely to be true, as they will be easiest to eliminate. Testing is expensive so the deepest tests should be focused on what emerges as the probable option.
6. Choose the new strategy. If the previous stages are conducted thoroughly making the choice will be easy, as it should suggest itself based on extensive analysis.
Whatever process you have for strategy development make sure that you have one ! Having a structured process which ensures that all relevant dimensions are considered by those who have something to contribute is critical to the quality of the final product.
Next comes implementation for which the decisive leadership referred to at the outset is required, especially if the strategy is radically different from the status quo.