Productive Strategy Review Meetings: Tips to Keep Your Team Focused
A Strategy Review Meeting's success greatly depends on having the right leadership style. Discover the best tips on how to become the strategy-focused leader your organization needs and motivate your executive team to do the same.
The purpose of a Strategy Review Meeting is to analyze the strategy’s implementation results, identify areas of opportunity, get the team involved in problem-solving and formulate action plans. It’s easy to see how getting this wrong would jeopardize the whole execution of the strategy.
Try to visualize the situation: the strategy has been defined and the executive team is committed to it; the agenda for the meeting is clear, the information complete and the reports robust, yet the key points of the meeting never get covered. The discussion keeps going round in circles and a territorial division between team members is loud and clear.
To avoid these kinds of situations, where demotivating the executive team is only the beginning of a long list of negative consequences, a leader must keep the team focused on what is strategically relevant for the company and instead of day-to-day matters. It is fundamental to promote a friendly and open climate, not one of reprimands and finger-pointing. Furthermore, subgroups must be broken down to promote a sense of teamwork and working together towards common goals.
For most companies this means acquiring a whole new way of thinking and acting. After all, one cannot simply order people to think and act in a new way. The leader must set the example and create an atmosphere that encourages employees to adopt the desired new behaviors.
To do so, leaders must change the way they act both in and out of the Strategy Review Meetings.
1. Communicate the Strategic Priorities
Even if the organization’s Strategy Map is crystal clear, leaders cannot expect all members to know which elements have a higher priority than others. Before each meeting, leaders should communicate to their executives which matters merit more emphasis.
During the meeting, leaders must make sure the team focuses on the strategy and issues related to it. They mustn’t allow their executive team to focus department-related issues or operative matters that do not affect the organization as a whole. If the conversation deviates from the arranged strategic topics, it is the leader’s responsibility to interrupt the dynamic and refocus the group’s attention on the meeting’s main purpose.
2. Encourage open-ended questions
Implementing a new strategy requires setting a new course for the organization. But if employees feel that there will be a low tolerance for their mistakes, they will hardly be motivated to experiment with new ways of working. Therefore, if leaders respond energetically to unsatisfying results, the message employees get is: “Don’t give the boss bad news.”, thus creating a setting that inhibits the new strategy’s execution.
Likewise, the executives in charge of asking the questions should recognize that questions such as “Why are our travel expenses so over budget?”, although effective for financial performance control, are hardly appropriate for managing and executing the strategy. Not asking the right questions can squander a whole meeting’s potential for constructive discussion by intimidating subordinates into not giving any valuable answers (or answering with “I’m not sure” or “I’ll have to ask my superior”) for fear of their point of view not being good enough.
In complex organizations, answers are not always available. Therefore leaders must suppress the urgency to place the blame on someone. On the contrary, they must assume a neutral standing when analyzing problems.
For example, instead of asking “Why are our indirect costs getting out of control?” leaders could try a series of alternate questions:
- “Did anybody else notice a threat in the indirect cost? Is this correct?” (This kind of question avoids blaming anybody).
- “Do you also notice this trend?” (This makes the team a part of the discussion and solution).
- “Well, what does this trend mean for us? There has been a great change in the last trimester.”
By using these types of questions, leaders will change the discussion from a culprit-searching one, to one oriented towards finding answers and solutions to the company’s pending problems. This way, executives will be motivated to search for the underlying roots to the problems and to solve them. They will use their creativity to contribute their best input to the team, instead of to dodge the blame.
Also, by emphasizing how important each team member is for the company’s performance, subgroups tend to disintegrate. People tend to offer their help and support more freely, when that is what they are also receiving from the organization itself.
Before each reunion, the leader should take the time to visualize the ambiance that he or she wishes to encourage; if it is an open environment to discover areas of opportunity, or a brainstorm of possible alternatives, or a true teamwork dynamic.
Once the leader has shown a true interest in promoting an openness culture instead of an imposition one, he or she will have sent a strong message. Employees will feel comfortable assisting to meetings armed with optimism and good ideas, as well as a great desire to participate in problem-solving mechanics. The behavior that the leader sets with his or her example will also become their standard for desired behavior.
3. Lead Rather than Impose
Leaders should try to incorporate the following into their daily routine:
- Communicate. Communicate, through their actions and behavior (before, during, and after the meetings) that the purpose of Strategy Review Meetings is not only to analyze performance, but to promote strategic behavior and to remove obstacles for progress.
- Identify key themes. Clarify the strategic priorities and help the team be proactive.
- Convey what is needed. Help people prepare for meetings. If people are required to identify certain information beforehand, they should be duly informed.
- Participate. Clarify that everybody’s active participation in meetings is expected; involve participants in the discussion.
- Ask without finger-pointing. Keep questions and comments objective. Foment employees’ creativity and their involvement in problem-solving. Create an environment open to different points of view.
- Lead, not only manage. Cultivate a sense of shared responsibility and divided accomplishments. Remember to reward area leaders that do this as well.
When setting the example and behaving like a true strategy-focused leader, the executive team will surely follow suit. This is important as studies have shown that a bad execution and NOT a flawed strategy is the cause behind 70% of CEO failures.
How well are you executing yours?
At TRISSA we use a comprehensive approach to consulting services, education and technology to help our clients adopt the best practices in strategy execution. We work with visionary executives looking to excel in their industries and that wish to coordinate their efforts with a strategy in order to achieve greater results.
Author: Trissa Strategy Consulting
Source: Barrows, Edward. "Walk the Talk: Effective Leadership for BSC Review Meetings." Strategy Reporting and Review - Balanced Scorecard Report (2005): 25-26. Online journal.