September is for Strategy

Developing a strategy is a mixture of science and art – analysing successes and failures from the past, and using intuition and creativity to generate new ideas for the future. It’s a mixture of responding to data and observations, identifying what you’d like to be doing, and making judgements about what you will focus on next.

September is a great time to do this. You’ve got eight months of information and activity behind you for the current year – enough to pick up on some key patterns – plus a good three months left to plan for next year.

Your team hold a lot of the knowledge and expertise that you can use to start developing your strategy, so bring them in at the start of the process. Not only is it a great opportunity for them to share what they know and learn from each other, but they will be much more motivated to engage in a strategy that they had a part in shaping. Take advantage of their refreshed mind-set after a bit of summer downtime, grab some post-it notes and pens, and set up camp in a room with high ceilings and natural light to get some big thinking going.

Here are some of the areas you can work on with your team to help explore your future direction. They combine ‘what you know’ with your aspirations of where you’d like to be heading:

  1. [REVIEW] What did we set out to do this year, and what have we achieved/not achieved? What are our big successes and failures? Did we meet our objectives and targets?
  1. [LESSONS LEARNED AND INSIGHTS] What have we learnt as a result of our activities this year? Are there any unexpected discoveries or anything we have confirmed? What are our customers and clients saying, and are there any common themes emerging? What else have we learnt about them through observation? What have we learnt about our own delivery, capabilities and resources?
  1. [TRENDS AND ENVIRONMENT] What is happening in the external environment that exists outside our team or company? Is there anything that we find interesting or that has caught our attention within or outside of our industry? What should be keeping a close eye on, and what should be learning more about?
  1. [WISHLIST] If we had unlimited time, budget and resources, what would we ideally be working on? What are we personally passionate about and what would we love the opportunity to pursue within our roles? Is there anything on our to-do lists that we never seem to get around to, but we think is important? What key projects have we put on the backburner?

You’ll need to think about how you’ll progress through these questions as a team (you’ll likely add your own questions too), and how the content generated from each area can be used to inform the other sections. Depending on your needs, you could run a full day off-site workshop to intensively immerse yourselves in the thinking, or run a series of smaller sessions to spend more time on each area and give your team time to reflect in between. Either way, use this guide for running a productive workshop to make sure you do the necessary preparation and facilitate it effectively for your strategy development process to move to the next stage.

Image credit: Luis Perez on Flickr

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