Ever been in a strategy meeting where everybody was focusing on the how instead of the what? The main problem with that is strategy meetings are for discussing strategy (the what), not tactics (the how).
Here are three questions that, when asked in order, will keep strategy meetings moving and focused. Grab a pen to write these down (I'll wait while you get the pen):
1. What results do we want from this action?
2. What must we do to achieve those results?
3. What knowledge, skills, or attitudes must we have/acquire to do those things?
There you go - it not rocket science, but the genius is in its simplicity.
In actual fact, these questions are rooted in how one prepares a training program, but they also are excellent for keeping strategy meetings focused and on track.
Say you have a lighter, faster, better, cheaper widget that you want to take to market, and you need a marketing strategy.
Question One: What results do you want? A certain percent of market share? "X" number of dollars in sales? "X" amount of increased profits? First things first: Identify the end results you want and don't talk about anything else until you do. Be specific. What percentage of market share? How many dollars? How much profit?
Question Two: What must you do to achieve those results? You're on a roll, keep brainstorming! Here are more examples: Need to identify demographics of widget buyers. Need to check trends and make widgets in colors that are currently fashionable. Must identify the reasons why people avoid buying widgets and find ways to address those issues. Need to explore marketing our widgets in partnership with a complementary product, etc. etc.
The framework for strategy is topped off with Question Three: What knowledge, skills, or attitudes must we acquire to do those things? (The 'to-do' list from Question Two.) This question focuses on what you need to learn or be concerned about.
Some examples: A need to learn what colors are going to be "in" for the next six months. A need to be open-minded about reasons why people don't buy widgets. A need to be methodical and not jump to conclusions when studying demographics. A need to learn how to fine tune the analysis and consider selling to "the long tail." Etc. etc.
Over course these three questions alone won't turn your meetings from "hay" to "hey!" How you prepare for your strategy meeting has a lot of impact, too.
Marie G. McIntyre, a leadership and management coach out of Atlanta, Georgia and author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics says, "because there are so many poorly-conducted meetings, managers who lead meetings well are both appreciated and respected."
Isn't that the truth? McIntyre offers some good meeting preparation tips, which include:
- Determine whether you really need to have a meeting. Could email, phone calls, or one-on-one discussions work instead?
- Include all necessary people – but only necessary people.
- Tell participants in advance what is expected from the discussion (the purpose).
- Tailor the format of the meeting to meet the goal.
- Develop a plan or agenda and then determine how you will structure the time.
- Distribute your agenda to participants ahead of time.
You may have heard all that before, but how much of it do you consistently do?
Helpful tip: As you run through the three key questions and brainstorm your answers, be sure to have a scribe write everything down. If you need to, assign one person as a facilitator to bring the conversation back to the three key questions whenever conversation starts to stray.
Then, as you're wrapping up the meeting, do it right. I agree with McIntyre when she says,
- Summarize what happened during the meeting and review all decisions.
- Create a "Next Steps" list of actions to be taken, complete with deadlines - and make sure people know what they're responsible for!
- Then stay on top of those action items. Follow up, follow up, and follow up.
Bottom line, most of us are tired of wasting time at unfocused meetings, especially if that meeting is supposed to be about strategy. First, prepare for meetings in a professional manner, then go through the three key questions in order.
If you do so, it's highly likely your meetings will be shorter, crisper, more productive, and maybe even more fun.