Plan for 25-40 minute executive strategy sessions – with a decision as target output

© Tweeter Linder 2015 – All rights reserved. Photo by iStock.

© Tweeter Linder 2015 – All rights reserved. Photo by iStock.

Most businesses face challenges in covering complex strategy sessions in a short meeting time. If you prepare your material around how you want the meeting to flow, you can improve the odds for success. This module take you through some of the most common pitfalls.

Planning for a success

High level strategy sessions is an environment with high internal visibility, and a desire to do things right.  The insights shared here are valuable to you as a secretary for a larger strategy session.  Allocating the right amount of time to many topics on the agenda is key to success. The insights are also targeting presenters and the ones preparing the decision material. A team-work on many fronts can to pull it off in a good way.

Executive presenters get support in preparing their own material. The team-work with the creator is a vital enabler for the quality of the final result. Aim to work with someone who understands the context for these sessions and the presenters’ style.  The number of speakers will determine the amount of time you can allocate for a topic.  A session with one speaker requires a minimum of 25 minutes. With two speakers you should consider extending to 40 minutes. A common pitfall is to try to squeeze in too many subjects on the agenda. The nature of both the topic and the audience generate interactions during the session.

Material for strategy sessions is often distributed well in advance. The amount needs to be tailored to both context and type of expected outcome as well as the amount of time available. As a rule of thumb each contextual slide requires 5 minutes to get the message across and pure number slides can be done a little quicker. The most challenging part of the preparations is to reduce the amount of slides to 5-8 critical slides, with the rest as back-up. A good approach is to leave the background material. But focus the planned presentation on vital aspects of the decision.

When selecting what to prepare it is common to adopt a business like presentation flow.  And to create slides in the order they will appear. This works well for outlining story line. The most common trap is to get stuck on WHAT slides and not getting to SO WHAT and NOW WHAT essentials. An alternative approach is to start with the material carrying SO WHAT and NOW WHAT messages and limit the WHAT messages. This approach is a bit unorthodox but a faster path to high quality meeting results.

Defining your strategic options

The best strategic discussions have a Key Strategic Questions (KSQ) tied to a decision model. Selected among common strategic thinking models e.g. Ansoff matrix, BCG matrix, Blue Ocean matrix etc. Intended to drive the strategic discussions to one four articulated options. Businesses find their strategic options among these four main ones:

  1. Status quo – A viable able the most common strategic decision is to make no change. This option should also be on the table to visualize the result of a no decision.
  2. Least effort – what is the strategic option requiring the least amount of effort. All organizations are resource constrained. This is a superior alternative to status quo and one requiring low change efforts.
  3. Second best – this is a good alternative where certain things have been down prioritized. Resulting on focus on an option with high likelihood of execution success.
  4. Best – the best option represent a big and resource intensive change. The best ambition but often the least selected option due to the implementation cost.

The most common pitfall in strategic sessions is to build a case for option 4 and ending up with option 1. A better approach is to carve out the options early and focus on building a case for 2 (Least effort) versus 3 (Second best). Both are within reach for decision and implementation. The best option set the opportunity frame. Your best contribution is to secure the right good ideas move into execution. Avoid getting stuck with great ideas without matching actions .

Questions to kick off a strategic preparation task

Good questions to ask to secure success are:

  1. Do the proposed presenters enjoy the trust and credibility among the key stakeholders? – If not you need to change.
  2. Is the meeting context clear and communicated to the preparation team? – Unclear context and boundaries can derail the preparation work
  3. Are the Key Strategic Questions (KSQs) well defined? – We tend to work with vague questions from start. Interim synchs around the key questions help the preparation team.
  4. Which strategic thinking models do my team and I master? – The more you manage the faster you can turn around new strategic questions.

Additional reading on the subject

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