Of all the meetings top executives go to in a year, none is more important than the strategy off-site, where the most essential conversations for the future of the business occur. Yet it is the rare management team that can say its strategy off-site truly changed the way the business is run. At best, participants do some vague direction setting and work on team-building skills; at worst, they write off the retreat as a waste of time and resources. It needn’t be like that.
“What is important is seldom urgent. And what is urgent is seldom important.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
We’re not sure we totally agree with President Eisenhower.
Let’s face it. Board meetings, investor days, activist shareholders, keeping customers happy, responding to competitive threats – the challenges you face are often both important and urgent, and the attention they draw from senior executives may well be fully justified.
But it’s not uncommon during this time of year that when our clients take a few moments to review their accomplishments, they pose an age-old question: “How do I successfully balance the important and the urgent? I started off the year with the best of intentions – this was going to be the year when my team and I finally resolved some of the big issues we face. But as the first quarter turned into the second, and we took on unforeseen challenges around [revenue, cost, competition, regulation, emerging technologies, etc.], we just never found the time to work the long-term problems. We got the job done, but never did get to those important but less time-sensitive topics.”
How does a management team find time to work on long-term strategic issues when any available time is quickly absorbed by the ‘crisis du jour’? How can a team maintain focus on what’s important when their attention is repeatedly redirected toward what’s urgent?
Without being overly self-serving, we think we’ve got at least one component of a good answer – schedule a strategy offsite.
Think, for a minute, about a well-designed, properly conducted strategy offsite.
The team takes a brief period of time – typically a day or two – leaves headquarters (or wherever they can usually be found) and locks themselves away from the day-to-day business. No cell phones, no other executive meetings, no distractions – a concentrated period of time when the entire group can focus on a limited number of issues, preferably more long-term or 30,000-foot topics than those typically covered in management meetings, or executive meetings.
What a unique and valuable opportunity to walk away from the urgent – even if only for a day or two – and turn the group’s attention to the important.
So, as you review this year and plan for next, think about kicking off the year with a strategy offsite, spending a day or two away from the building, either specifically targeting time to focus on what needs to get done next year, or actually using the time to take on one of those big elephants that’s been staring at you from the center of the boardroom table.
If you’d like some thoughts on how to pull together your next strategy offsite, you might want to have a look at our Harvard Business Review classic – Off-Sites That Work – or our more recent piece on larger meetings – Leadership Summits That Work.