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.
We’ve always appreciated the timeliness of Martha Stewart’s advice: “It’s the first day of spring, folks. Time to clean your oven, replace the batteries in your smoke alarms, and rotate your mattresses!” And while we know it’s a few weeks before spring officially arrives, we thought we would follow in Martha’s footsteps and share four common issues that some of our clients are focused on now. Perhaps you should too.
Two of these ‘topics du jour’ are seasonal; they’re relevant towards the beginning of every year. The others are due to current events shaping 2016.
• Assembling and monitoring strategic initiative portfolios. Now that budgets are set and 2016 is well under way executive teams are launching new strategic initiatives. The most successful teams take the time to make sure everyone has a common understanding of the strategic initiative portfolio, including roles and responsibilities and key dependencies, before focusing on execution. Once everyone’s on the same page, many top leaders are putting in place reporting mechanisms to track progress, and scheduling periodic meetings to continue to discuss the initiatives throughout the year.
• Engaging the executive team and the Board in strategy discussions. Yes, it’s only February, but in many cases planning has started on mid/late year strategy conversations with both executive teams and Boards of Directors. These organizations have started to outline the key issues to discuss, determine what analysis and recommendations need to be completed, and even to poll attendees to solicit their opinions in advance.
• Preparing for change. Markets are always changing, but the first few weeks of 2016 have been extraordinarily volatile. Some of our clients are taking the time to prepare for the events that will potentially impact their industries, including geo-political conditions in the Middle East, slowing growth in China, the strong dollar, long-term decline in crude oil prices, and growing popularity of platform strategies, even among historically non-technical companies. Executive teams are dedicating a few meetings to the topic, often using tools such as competitive wargaming and scenario planning.
• Slashing costs. Many clients have a strategic mandate to significantly reduce costs. For some, growth plans are not materializing; others are under pressure from activist investors. These companies may need to radically rethink the focus of the work across the organization, as finding incremental efficiencies won’t get the job done. A few are shutting down wasteful initiatives and taking a hard look at their lines of business – exiting some and doubling down on others. Regardless, decisions to cut costs in most organizations are difficult and, in many cases, require a series of structured conversations to debate the available options and get the team aligned around next steps to hit cost reduction targets.