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How are you getting on with your strategy?’
‘How are you getting on with your strategy?’ asked the consultant in a inquisitive manner. ‘I’m writing the last section now’ replied the business unit head in a proud tone. ‘Hmm… It wasn’t the document I was wondering about’ replied the consultant with a quizzical expression. ‘Oh!’ replied the manager before pausing.
Seeking to clarify the confusion the consultant explained: ‘What I was wondering about was whether there was clarity emerging regarding the key strategic priorities and the overall strategic agenda’.
‘Well, we have been under pressure to submit the strategy by the end of the quarter, so time for discussion has been very limited’ the business unit head added. ‘That said, I have shared a few sections with some people and the reaction has been pretty positive. …No real issues of contention emerged’ he explained.
The Problem with Strategy
The consultant nodded but struggled to hide her concern. She feared it was a ‘tick in the box exercise’ – a clear example of strategic planning ‘the old-fashioned way’:
- The dialog around the plan ‘had clearly been limited’. She pictured the division head locked in his office writing a 50 or 60 page document. It was, in her view ‘a real last opportunity in terms of engaging and energizing the organization’.
- She was also worried that there were ‘no issues of contention’ arguing that ‘there must be some contention – if not all the issues have probably not been put in the table and the hard choices are probably not being made!’ ‘If it is easy then it is not strategy’ she reflected ‘ trade-offs and compromises are essential’.
- It all sounded very ‘business as usual’, yet the consultant new that the industry was undergoing a transformation that was ‘far from usual’. She figured that a plan written by one very busy manager would inevitably struggle to grapple with the opportunities and challenges presented by accelerated change.
Why a Strategic Agenda?
What problem are we trying to solve in using the term strategic agenda? Well, perhaps the age-old problem of strategy. Especially, the inefficiencies and frustrations associated with traditional strategy creation and more importantly the gap between strategy and execution.
Much of this centres on the difference between strategy as a document and strategy as something more. For example, strategy as an agenda:
- A document is static- an agenda is dynamic.
- The norm is you present the strategy, while you shape, dialog and promote the strategic agenda.
- An agenda generates discussion and dialogue – with the process of dialog and strategic conversations being critical to contemporary strategy. It generates energy and engagement.
- It is also the agenda for action – it is the agenda of the business unit or organization.
- It stays high—outlining the key choices and issues. It is the topics to be discussed – the issues that matter most.
In the early stages it may be phrased as a set of questions. For example: what is the vision? what are the strategic priorities? where will growth come? from how will we add value? Etc.
What is the strategic agenda?
We asked a selection of experienced executives for their perspectives on what a strategic agenda was, here is what we heard (starting with the Top 5):
- It is what you would discuss with the CEO or Chairman if you had 45 minutes alone with them.
- It is the critical business issues that your leaders are ‘gagging’ to talk about
- It is the top 3 to 5 things that you will come back to again and again to assess if you’re on track for Success
- It is the elevator script for your strategy – it’s essentials clearly communicated in a few sentences
- It is the set of things that energize and engage your leaders as they drive for success
Those are the ones we selected as the Top 5, here are the rest
- It is the essentials of your strategy and what it aims to achieve
- The strategic agenda is a means of ensuring that everybody is on the same page as regards strategy
- It might be the executive summary but is typically punchier. It is more than the table of contents of your strategic plan!
- It is the key opportunities and challenges facing your organization and how you will respond to them
- It is the core directional choices facing the business. It is reflected in your resource allocation decisions.
- It is the rallying call for the organization – the burning platform – the call to action
- It is what matters most to the present and future performance of the organization
- It is how the organization will balance business as usual and business unusual
- It is the contents of those select few slides that you would share at the c-suite level. The tailing points you wouid use to engage them.
- The strategic agenda set out where we are now, where we are going and how we are going to get there
- If it is strategic that means it looks beyond this quarter and the next.
Creating your strategic agenda?
The Strategic Agenda is dialoguing and exploring the key questions issues, and priorities facing the organization in driving performance today and sustaining success into the longer term. So, what is in a strategic agenda? Well, here are some of the favorites:
- What potential exists and how it will be exploited?
- Where profitable growth will come from?
- Where / how performance (efficiencies, cost savings, etc) will be optimized?
- How additional value will be generated?
- Where/how innovation will be leveraged?
- What capacity, capabilities and competencies (incl. Talent) will be developed?
- What key linkages and synergies will be leveraged across the organization?
- The top three to five strategic initiatives or critical projects to deliver on the above (i.e. growth, value, Innovation, capability)?
- What’s the organization of the future looks like and how this vision will be realized
- The top 3 to 5 insights that challenge your view of the future of your organization and its industry