Strategy Transition: 5 Simple Steps
by Tom Wright, on Oct 25, 2018 9:58:11 AM
The business world loves to think of things fitting neatly into 'years'. Whether it's financial results, performance reviews, or business strategy - the 'year-end' review process will be familiar ground. Of course, in reality, the strategy shouldn't really be bounded to individual years. It should be fluid and dynamic, with short and long-term goals meshing together and evolving over time. You don't have to wait to the end of the year to review how you got on (or how you're getting on), and make small changes to facilitate the perfect strategy transition.
This guide will assist you with your strategy transition in the following ways:
- It will help you review what went well and what didn't
- It will help ensure your team fully understand your strategy now and for the next period of assessment
- It will help you keep your strategy fresh and relevant
The guide will take you through the steps you need to follow to run a successful strategy transition process. It assumes that you will be running a minimum of a half-day session with your team, and that you already have a well structured strategy in place. Here goes...
Download Strategy Transition Meeting Agenda
The template will help you to run the strategy session, with detailed agenda items and suggested timings. Click the download button below.
1. Did people understand the strategy?
Before you even get into the detail of how well you did, this is the perfect time to check in with your team to ensure they actually understood the vision statement and the focus areas that made up the core of the strategic plan.
Start off the strategy transition session by making sure everyone has a copy of the strategic plan in front of them. Then, ask each department head to briefly present back on how their team tackled each focus area. Don't ask for anything written, just a quick verbal update from each person at the start of the meeting on each of the focus areas.
For Cascade Users: Print off the Strategy Plan Export and use this document as the basis for the discussion.
2. Were people engaged with the strategy?
Gauging people's engagement is hard to do at the end of the year - it's far better do try to stay on top of this as you go through the year in your regular 1:1 meetings. But, only around 55% of all senior managers within large organizations can name even one of their company's top priority focus areas! In truth, you'll probably already have a pretty good idea of which of your team members are engaged with the strategy and which are not. That said, there are a few open questions that you can ask to help further your understanding of how things have gone here:
- Which of our focus areas do you think we did well on, and which less so?
- Which is your favorite one of our team values?
- Talk me through the KPIs you're tracking in your area against each of the focus areas.
- What part of our strategy keeps you awake at night? Where do you think we struggle the most?
Ask the above questions in an open-ended way without singling out any specific individuals and see who steps forward. Remember, some people might just be shier than others, so try to engage those people 1:1 rather than judging them on their performance solely in this strategy transition meeting.
For Cascade Users: Take a look at the Strategy Engagement Report to get a feel for which teams engaged well with the process and which didn't. Do not print this off, or refer to it in the meeting - that would be far too big-brother-ish - simply use it to inform your questions prior to the meeting.
3. Did you make tangible progress towards your vision statement?
Vision statements tend to be quite long term, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't check in at least once per year to talk about how you've progressed towards it. Often they become stale and then all of sudden get changed - which hurts the credibility of the entire process. It's hard to make this a very tangible activity, but spend a good amount of time talking with your team about this point. Here are a few open questions you can use to drive the discussion forward:
- What are the key measurable components of our vision statement?*
- What are some examples of projects/results from this past year that really went to the core of our vision?
- Tell me about something that someone in your team did which exemplified our vision statement?
*There's a chance that you might get stuck at question 1. If your vision statement lacks any kind of specificity, you'll find it hard to assess success. In this case, consider making changes to your vision statement to bring it more in line, using our guide to creating the perfect vision statement. Don't be afraid to make changes to your plan as part of the strategy transition process.
4. Are your focus areas still the right ones for your strategy transition?
If you go through the exercise above and find that you honestly didn't make much progress towards your vision, then you need to look to your focus areas to see if they're still relevant and attainable (we'll look at actual performance in just a moment). Even if you did make progress against your vision statement, revisiting your focus areas is still a great exercise to keep them fresh in people's minds and to give people a chance to provide input for the (re)formulation of the strategic plan.
Go through each of your focus areas in turn, and walk through the following questions with your team:
- Do we feel as though we still haven't done all that we can for this focus area (i.e. we've not yet 'finished' it)?
- Do we feel that the focus area still "stands alone" (i.e. the activities wouldn't be better off spread out across the other focus areas)?
- Is it still a critical component of delivering our vision statement?
- Do we have the resources (or can we realistically get the resources soon) to tackle this in the next 12 months?
You're looking for a straight yes on all 4 questions, for all of your focus areas. If you agree 'no' on any of the questions, then you should seriously consider dropping or re-modeling this focus area. Question 4 is a little controversial. Just because you can't do something, that surely doesn't mean that you should just ignore it and drop it from the list? Ideally no, you would phase your organizational goals so that the far-reaching focus areas only have goals against them when they can be adequately resourced. But, either way, the last thing you want is to be unrealistic about what you can achieve - as this will only serve to demotivate the team and take credibility away from your strategic planning process.
Finally, open up the floor to your team to suggest new focus areas that they want to submit for inclusion in the strategy transition. Now that they've worked with the strategic planning framework for at least 12 months, they'll be better placed than ever to participate in the (re)formulation of the plan. It's also a great way to build the engagement of team members who will feel much more empowered to deliver against focus areas that they actually helped to design.
For Cascade Users: Try creating a Focus Area Dashboard and use widgets such as the 'Focus Completion' widget and the 'Multi-Goal' widget (with one Focus Area in each widget) to give you a visual representation of how you have performed against your focus areas over the past 12 months.
5. What goals did you hit/miss?
OK, this is where our strategy transition process starts to get really serious. It's time to start going through the key organizational goals in your focus areas and talking about what went well and what didn't. A quick warning - try not to get too detailed, and do not engage in any actual 'problem solving' here. The purpose of this exercise is to understand which parts of the strategy need additional focus or to be refocused in the next period, not to fix a broken project or deliverable.
a) Talk through your goals and identify themes
Have your team talk through the main organizational goals one-by-one based on who was assigned to the goals therein. Spend an equal amount of time talking about the successes as you do about the failures (it's good for morale, and you can learn a ton about what you're good at, as well as what you're not). As the discussion progresses, try to identify themes in the goals that didn't succeed. Look out for things like the following:
- Lack of measurements
Do your goals have clear KPIs set against them, or is success/failure being measured in loose or vague terms?
- No ownership
Is there clear accountability for each goal, or are people looking at each other rather than taking ownership?
- Unrealistic time-frames
Was there ever any chance of the goal being achieved in the time given? Setting realistic time frames is a key part of the initial creation of the strategic plan, and of its longer-term credibility.
- Lack of resources / specific skills
Did your organization have the right people in place to successfully execute the goal? Maybe there is one skill in particular that your team lacks which has contributed to the failure of multiple goals? Maybe the issue is money/budget?
- Lack of insight/analytics
Are you equipped with the right data to make informed decisions and the right tools to track new data as it comes in? Did this hamper delivery of the goal?
- Lack of communication
Was the goal regularly discussed at previous team meetings? You shouldn't be learning anything here that hadn't already been unearthed by your regular strategy reviews. You may need to revisit your strategy governance.
- Poor alignment
Where any of your goals actively working against each other? Or were they so distinct from one another as to make any synergies almost impossible?
If you do identify any of the above issues as recurring themes, you might want to read our guide about writing great strategic objectives before you start to reformulate your strategic plan.
Spend your time listening as your team talks and then outline any themes you've detected at the end. Invite them to contribute other themes that they may have spotted themselves. Don't try to solve these issues today - instead, schedule a separate session in the near future to cover them, and focus only on the strategy transition process for now.
b) What goals need to transition into the next quarter/year?
Just because you didn't hit a goal doesn't mean it's a write-off. For many goals, you'll want to agree on an extension to their timelines instead. Agree with your team which goals you need to extend, and which should be abandoned. Giving up on a goal should be a last resort - there's probably a very good reason it was there in the first place - but don't be afraid to streamline your plan if circumstances have changed and things are no longer as relevant as they were.
Avoid getting into a discussion about timelines today. Give that job to the owner of the goal and ask him/her to come back in the next session to present their revised timelines. It will make the process much more thorough and help to engage that team member in the final outcome of the goal.
For Cascade Users: Run a Strategy Snapshot and set the filters to only show goals that are due before the end of the year that's just finished. Use this report as the basis for the goal-by-goal update.
And there we have it - those are the key steps you need for a seamless strategy transition between years. You'll probably find that the session will run for a good 2-3 hours - so schedule a few breaks, and if possible take your team somewhere quiet where they can fully disconnect from the daily stresses of running the organization.
Once you've worked through each of the strategy transition steps above (and any follow-on sessions), update your strategy document and recirculate it to the entire organization in whatever manner you've found most effective for communicating your strategy. We wrote a guide to doing exactly that right here in case it helps.