This Insights article was contributed by Dave Haviland, CEO, Phimation Strategy Group.
Feeling overwhelmed? Looking for an antidote?
A friend of mine had a saying he used with his kids: “You can’t tell me, ‘I don’t have time,’ but you can tell me, ‘It’s not a priority.’” That saying has wisdom about how to deal with being overwhelmed – get clearer about your priorities, and more disciplined about sticking to them.
Don’t tell me you’re overwhelmed – tell me you haven’t clarified your priorities or aren’t sticking to them.
Most companies do strategic planning once a year. And that’s the right cadence to do a significant step back from the business and develop priorities. But the annual planning process is only part of the solution.
At least as important is a regular cadence of quarterly strategy meetings that keep strategies on the front burner, provide a forum to redirect strategies and adapt to changes, and clarify who will do what, when.
I cover a broad range of topics in the quarterly strategy meetings I lead for my clients, like:
- deciding whether to launch a Europe office
- considering the need for sales training
- debating the need promote a high-performing manager
- evaluating the company’s compensation structure
- allocating the money available for innovation projects
- agreeing to the plans to form a new strategic partnership
I follow a simple formula for my meetings, which usually run ¾ of a day:
- Look Back
- Key Issues
- Look Ahead
When one of my clients first starts a quarterly strategy cadence, we usually spend 40 percent of our time looking back, 30 percent discussing key issues, and 30 percent looking ahead. This is because the company has to build its “accountability muscle.” Over the course of a year, as that muscle strengthens, we move to 10 percent looking back, 70 percent key issues, and 20 percent looking ahead.
I’ve seen good quarterly strategy meetings…and bad ones. Here are some tips to make yours more effective:
- Prepare. Develop an agenda about a month ahead of time and assign homework. Most managers and executives cannot show up the day of the meeting and just “be strategic.” Strategy needs preparation.
- Find the conflict. Any business with limited resources – which is almost every business out there – needs to have conflict about how to use those resources. That conflict should come out in the strategy meeting, when it can be considered with the big picture in mind…not in day-to-day work when it’s hard to see the big picture.
- Facilitate. Every group has its own dynamics. It’s helpful to set ground rules, and to ask for everyone’s help in having a productive discussion.
- Track. Develop a simple scorecard to show progress. Some of my clients like to have more sophisticated dashboards with numerical results; others like to use a simple green/yellow/red system. Both can work well if done right.
- Pick the right participants. Some of my clients involve all managers in all of the topics…but that’s usually not the most efficient or effective approach. I often design agendas that have smaller groups focus on different topics.
The best antidote to being overwhelmed? Consistent, well-designed, well-managed quarterly strategy meetings.
Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie.