Not all frameworks involve a SWOT
A strategy framework is a great way to quickly visualise and share where you are and where you want to go – but planning tools don’t begin and end with a SWOT analysis.
One of the limitations of a SWOT is not understanding the context for each strength, weakness, opportunity and threat. Your weaknesses may not be as important as your strengths or opportunities – and you also need to know how those strengths compare with the market or where you want to take the business. It can end up being a brain-dump with no clear sense of direction.
If you want to organise big issues into manageable categories to focus discussion, other framework options include Kaplan and Norton’s balanced scorecard, or a self-rating across specific capabilities that matter most to your business, customers and industry. Macquarie’s benchmarking results, such as the recent strata management and legal reports, can give you some ideas on how you measure up.
New ways to get ideas flowing
You’ve got all the right people in the room, so set aside time in the agenda for problem solving and idea building. To generate really creative responses, these three techniques can help.
1. Steal ideas from another industry
If you have a specific challenge, look outside your industry for examples of where that has been solved before. For example, if you’re worried about customer loyalty, ask everyone for examples of other sectors that manage this really well. The idea for packaging roll on deodorant came from a ballpoint pen – so challenge your team to think outside the square.
2. Set up some constraints
Blue sky thinking can be fun, but it doesn’t always lead to practical results. So put some roadblocks on a brainstorm – this could be as simple as saying ‘you can suggest anything except X, Y and Z’ – and insert the ideas that come up every single year.
3. Ask for truly deviant ideas
Often people will sit on an idea because they think it's not good enough – but with a bit of team effort that idea may spark the best solution. So challenge the team for a high quantity of ideas, as crazy and ridiculous as they like. You never know where they may lead.
Narrow in on the right direction
Two things need to emerge during your strategy planning session. One is an agreed over-arching direction for the year – ideally something you can summarise in one or a few words. Options might involve people, efficiency, productivity, security, market change or scalable growth.
Once you have this, your priorities will become clear. If, for example, you’ve come up with 40 different initiatives during the day (or are still carrying those tactical ideas from the last strategy day), HBR suggests using a simple ‘archery’ exercise to make sure you hit your target.
Hang your direction (or a few top line strategic directions) on the wall as a target with two circles: the bullseye and the outer ring. Now write every initiative on a post it and place it where it should go – will it achieve the goal? Bullseye. Is it slightly relevant? Outer ring. Completely off-topic? Outside the target.
This should lead to a manageable list of high-impact initiatives – the second thing you need to agree at the session. Then, if you have time, work out who is responsible, how the outcomes will be measured, and the timeframe for execution.
Close with clarity and a sense of purpose
By the end of your strategy day, everyone should be inspired to achieve the direction you’ve set as a team. Ask one question to check everyone is on the same page: ‘What has become clearer after today?’
Then document your strategy in a single page, and set a time for a review on progress – ideally each quarter.
Given the pace of change in today’s markets, there’s no time to write and review a 40 page strategy document or wait a year for the next collaboration. Like every other aspect of running your business, it might be time to give your strategy sessions an agile shake-up.