I have been helping companies develop and execute their strategies for over 30 years, and I am frequently asked to facilitate strategy off-sites. Early in my career I would almost always say yes, excited about the possibility to help a client build a great strategy.
I was sure that getting a senior team together to build a vision and plan for achieving the vision was a fantastic idea. After all, doesn’t the road to great success start with a clear definition of what great success means?
Now, I’m not so sure.
The strategy off-site scenario goes like this. The potential client wants to get their team working together to build a plan for the coming year or two. It’s exciting. Everyone is looking forward to having some input on the plan. I get input before the meeting, assessing where things are and what the key issues are. The client and I plan and execute the two day session, which everyone finds rewarding and exhausting. We come out of the session with a clear set of goals and an action plan. Everyone has talked about what they are going to do differently to make sure it does. The team feels energized and looks forward to getting back to work.
Then what happens?
They go back to work and they face the chaos that attacks our everyday lives and business. An important customer calls with special requests. A key employee decides to leave. An unexpected product problem emerges. The auditor tells you that you need better controls. Your kid brings home a poor report card and needs more help with their homework. That charity you got involved with needs help fundraising. That industry committee you agreed to chair needs more attention.
The goals and action plan you put in place seem to fade into the background. You keep an eye on the financial statements and hope it works out. At some point, the financial statements take a turn for the worse and you jump back in trying to figure out what’s going on and what you need to change.
Unfortunately, if you don’t know how to execute, strategy off-sites don’t work.
Now when people ask me to facilitate strategy offsites, I ask them about how they get things done. Does the senior leadership team know how to make a real commitment, not just a “yes I’m on board” commitment, but a “yes I will get this done and I will stake my bonus on it” commitment? Does the organization have the skills it needs to execute? Can you focus? Can you communicate? Can you drive active accountability? Can you unbundle the impossible into the doable? Are you willing to dedicate time to the task?
Are you really ready to play to win? Are you really ready to turn your organization into producers, not consumers?
If you’re not ready or capable of executing, a strategy offsite is most likely a waste of time.
Execution is hard work. It requires a relentless focus, commitment and discipline. Before you invest a lot in developing strategy, invest in the skills and resources required to execute strategy.