6 Tips to Getting the Most Out of Your Offsites
As annual planning season reaches its peak, most organisations are gearing up to run their annual strategic planning workshops. Typically, the participants at these sessions include the Board, the C-Suite, or functional senior management. At Insurgence, we are asked by clients to facilitate dozens of these sessions each year and, for this reason, we thought it would be timely to share some insights to help you with your annual planning exercises this year. The following are several tips to help you get the most out of your planning offsites:
Tip 1: Don’t be a Castle
It is an almost axiomatic assumption that your Board/EXCO planning offsite will include, exclusively, the Board or the Executive team. This is often a mistake. While it is helpful to have the decision makers around the table to make important decisions about allocating resources, having the same 8-10 people around the table inevitably creates groupthink and fails to bring new insights into the process. Increasingly, organisations rely on suppliers, advisors, and customers to help inform their thinking about market trends and opportunities; yet these important stakeholders are almost never represented at the table in a meaningful way.
Equally important are people in your organisation, often junior in the hierarchy, whose unique perspectives and important insights about customers and consumers would infuse the conversation with fresh thinking. Positionally and politically, it is unpopular to include these people in rarefied, strategy discussions. This is an artificial constraint. Break down the castle walls and find ways to co-create your strategy to expand your perspectives. At a minimum, find a way to make sure your customer has a seat (or a proxy) at the planning table.
Tip 2: Don't confuse strategy and planning
Setting aside one or two days to get your plans for the next twelve months is essential, but often insufficient to the task of building a compelling strategy and plan. Most organisations mistakenly prioritise planning over strategy whilst de-emphasising strategy, i.e., how best to position their organisation relative to changing market conditions (trends), competition (including emerging competitors), and changing customer and consumer dynamics.
In so doing, they are ignoring the essential elements of a good strategy. Instead, organisations spend too much time declaring what they want (objectives) and fiddling with vision and mission statements. While these things are important, strategy is about positioning and planning is about the efficient allocation of limited resources. Too much planning and not enough strategy creates a high risk of incrementalism and inside-out thinking.
Tip 3: Don't forget your business model
Every business, not-for-profit, and government agency has one or more business models that sit at the heart of their value creation activities. Most strategic planning exercises proceed under the implicit assumption that the business model is robust to the change surrounding the business and, therefore, prioritise extrapolation of the existing business model(s) to drive growth. However, in this highly unstable and volatile world we live in, this assumption can be fatal.
Any rigorous interrogation of the strategy must include a deep exploration of how an organisation’s business model must evolve and adapt to change. From our experience, most strategies fail to explore this important element, often with dire consequences.
Tip 4: More is not enough
The majority of strategic plans we see are optimised against six key levers, each designed to help an organisation to capitalize on existing capabilities and achieve “more” of what it already has. These levers, pulled independently or in combination, are the primary drivers of almost every strategy. They are price, geography, customer/channel, product/service, and vertical/horizontal integration.
Without a deep understanding of market dynamics and change, pulling these levers can lead to what we describe as “target-driven strategy”, whereby internal targets set false expectations about market opportunities and, often, cause leadership teams to miss or forego these important opportunities in favour of “own goals”.
Tip 5: Insights not (just) Facilitation
It is typical to have a skilled facilitator to support “herding the cats” at the annual planning offsite. While useful, it is important to avoid prioritising facilitation over insights. Traditional facilitation is designed to guide a team to an agreed endpoint and should create a good and comfortable experience for the participants. However, this is not what you need.
What is required is an uncomfortable experience where the guide is challenging your assumptions and forcing you and your team to think differently about problems and opportunities facing the business. If you are not drained and exhausted at the end of the offsite, you have not done the work any justice. It’s not a junket. It’s your strategy. You need the hard and challenging perspectives that a traditional facilitation approach will not be able to provide.
Tip 6: Preparation and Follow-Through
A good two-day offsite typically will require up to a month of preparation and a month of follow-up to adequately prepare in advance and turn workshop outputs into a coherent input to your planning. Underinvestment in preparation and follow-through is an opportunity for disappointment and sub-optimal results. Additionally, planning to the available time may also be a factor that leads to disappointment. Allocating one or two days to strategy each year is almost certainly insufficient unless there is very limited change in the environmental context in which your business operates.
At Insurgence, we are experts in bringing together strategy and innovation to help our clients discover new sources of value in an increasingly unstable environment. We literally wrote the book on this topic. Our expertise in guiding our clients to confront deeply embedded assumptions and challenge existing orthodoxies will help you get beyond your existing, self-imposed boundaries to discover new territory for growth and value creation, however, defined. In so doing, our experts will help you transform your “offsite” into a pivotal milestone for your business.