7 Top Tips for a Transformational Strategy Day

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How well is your team executing strategy and do they even get it?

The company away day workshop, done well, is one of the biggest value creators you can invest your executive team’s time in. How well are you leading and communicating your plan, what are your great wins, how well are your values providing a compass for guiding decision making, is there a positive culture and determination around your plans and budgets? These meetings are not talkfests – they’re discussions to get plan refinement, reinvention and most importantly - engagement.

“What do you do?” is a simple question many firms and people stumble to nail an answer to. I’ve worked with teams who when pushed to give an “elevator pitch” about what their companies are, stammer through the vision or values and can’t make a punchy impression in a world where 140 characters is maybe all you get. A well-arranged get together should ensure everyone comes away knowing what the pitch is.

Famous pitches like OJ Simpson’s lawyer’s summary of the defence “if the glove does not fit you must acquit”, or Steve Jobs’ “1000 songs in your pocket” are gold. I once ran a steel making business in which we all agreed a “safe business is a great one”, and our license to operate was based on Zero Harm. It became the mantra for lifting performance and profitability across the whole mill.

PlaceMakers is a billion-dollar distributor of building products of which I was CEO. Our team was united by the tag line of “Know How Can Do” with the enduring customer vision that “together we are building NZ”. Our builder customers and staff felt a sense of partnership that we were in it together.

I recently facilitated a workshop for a small privately-owned company at which the team told the founder and CEO that his vision and goals were too ambitious and unrealistic and they were missing out on hitting the good stuff in the near field of vision. They also told him what they felt his strengths were and how to best structure the business.

These revelations can be confronting and a big shock, but if acted on positively, massive value can be unlocked through focusing on the important activities.

In this case the feedback galvanised the team and gave them the confidence to move forward faster than before with more realistic goals established. The breakthrough soon came and record sales months followed.

Facing your realities together can provide a clearer path and more confidence in the strategic plan. Sales teams can often be left to their own devices, and their work taken for granted. However, if teams aren’t on the same page, careful financial planning and budgets can get lost in translation and massive value lost due to errant pricing decisions or poor conversion of marketing investments.

The act of getting together and having an honest and confronting discussion about the trajectory of your business is so rewarding when done well. The prize is getting more momentum and bigger bottom lines.

After years of running these days, which have gone on to be defining moments for many businesses I have led, I can give you my top seven tips for running a great away day workshop.

  1. Make sure you take it far away from a business as usual get together. Set the scene well before and state clear meeting objectives.

  2. Carefully select attendees – mix up some key non-direct report talent, maybe external suppliers and a customer voice to make it real. Create pre-meeting expectations on everyone’s contribution.

  3. Create some performance tension by giving the attendees some homework beforehand to get them thinking about the topics and objectives. Everyone should have their voice heard.

  4. Don’t think it will be a one hit wonder day – it is sometimes good to run over multiple sessions to get things done in between or test things out.

  5. Don’t try and run it yourself – get it facilitated so you don’t overwhelm proceedings and give it the best chance of opening wide ranging and honest discussion.

  6. Collect measurable actions and milestones that become the bible to creating your own secret sauce for your business. Follow up relentlessly.

  7. Agree a mantra or tag line that triggers the right actions post meeting in everyday business. In a national cement business I ran we agreed to “Commit and Do” which was all about customer urgency. It remains on the cement tankers and silos as a result of that workshop.

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