A board strategy day is one of the most crucial and impactful moments a board can experience throughout the year. It is a unique opportunity for the board to gather in a less formal and structured environment, free from the day-to-day operational grind, to delve into the organisation’s longer-term direction, purpose, and strategy. Unlike regular board meetings, strategy days are dedicated to going beyond routine matters and focusing on the big picture.
So, how do you ensure a well-executed board strategy day? Directors come together to explore and discuss critical issues facing the organisation, delving into the organisation’s most significant opportunities and challenges, but how do you ensure a successful platform for strategic discussions beyond the confines of standard board meetings?
Your goal is for board members to understand the factors shaping the industry, the competitive landscape, and the organisation’s internal dynamics. You strive to align the board and the executive leadership team (ELT) around the organisation’s most significant strategic priorities. The board can ensure a shared vision and commitment to a compelling future direction by fostering open and collaborative discussions. This alignment is vital for effective decision-making, ensuring that the board and the ELT agree regarding overarching strategic goals.
To help, we’ve listed some tips to ensure your strategy days meet all expectations.
Getting the most out of a board strategy day
Directors and executives frequently report poor planning, inadequate facilitation, excessive presentations, and an overly packed agenda as shortcomings that can result in a significant missed opportunity during a board strategy day. If you fail to set the tone for the organisation’s future and establish a clear roadmap for success, you will be wasting everyone’s time.
To make board strategy days truly impactful, it is crucial to approach them with deliberate thinking, engagement, and planning. This involves careful consideration of the agenda, ensuring that it allows for in-depth discussions on critical issues. Facilitation should be skilful, encouraging participation from all board members and fostering an environment conducive to open dialogue.
Effective board strategy days require a focus on outcomes. Boards should leave the session with a shared understanding of the organisation’s strategic direction, a commitment to key priorities, and a tangible action plan for implementation. This ensures that the time and resources invested in the strategy day yield tangible benefits for the organisation in the long run.
A well-executed board strategy day can be a defining moment for both the board and the organisation. It should be when directors and executives reflect on the day as the turning point where they became fully aligned and committed to an ambitious and compelling future. With thoughtful planning and engagement, board strategy days can transform into invaluable tools for steering organisations toward long-term success.
One of the most significant issues? Inadequate planning
The belief that the planning process can be deferred or replicated from the prior year can undermine the effectiveness of the entire session. This misconception, sometimes from familiarity with the process, can mean a lack of innovation and relevance in addressing current challenges and opportunities.
CEOs and ELTs may inadvertently assume they can replicate the prior year’s process and agenda for the upcoming board strategy day. This approach overlooks the dynamic nature of business environments, which constantly evolve due to market shifts, technological advancements, and internal changes. Relying solely on a previous year’s framework may fail to address new and emerging issues critical to the organisation’s success.
To overcome this challenge, it is crucial for the chair, CEO, and the board to initiate discussions well in advance of the planned strategy day—ideally, at least four months prior. This early engagement allows for a thoughtful and comprehensive planning process considering the organisation’s unique circumstances and challenges.
The discussion should build upon the post-mortem analysis following the last strategy day. This post-mortem is a valuable opportunity to reflect on what worked well and what could be improved. Any proposed changes and enhancements arising from this analysis should be agreed upon during this discussion, forming the basis for refining the approach to the next strategy day.
Pro tip: Involving the board in planning enhances transparency and inclusivity. Board members bring diverse perspectives and insights that can enrich the agenda and contribute to developing a more robust strategy. The board can create a foundation for a more engaging and productive strategy day by fostering open communication and collaboration in the planning phase.
Assessing organisational strengths and weaknesses
A critical prerequisite for a successful board strategy day lies in the board’s deep understanding of the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses concerning strategy well before the planning process. This proactive approach enables the board to identify areas for improvement and implement necessary changes before the strategy day unfolds.
Boards are pivotal in establishing a robust foundation for their organisation’s strategy. This foundation encompasses a compelling purpose and vision that resonate throughout the organisation. The organisation’s values must not merely exist on paper but should permeate the culture, fostering an environment conducive to effective strategy execution. Without a well-defined purpose, vision, and ingrained values, developing a resilient strategy capable of successful execution becomes a formidable challenge.
A key aspect of effective strategy execution is clear prioritisation, communication, and monitoring. Boards must establish mechanisms that facilitate the articulation of strategic priorities, ensuring that these priorities resonate throughout the organisation. Communication becomes a linchpin in driving all stakeholders’ shared understanding of the strategy. Equally crucial is establishing robust monitoring systems, enabling the board to track progress and make timely adjustments to ensure the strategy’s successful implementation.
Delegate planning to an ad hoc committee
Typically composed of the chair, CEO, and another director, this committee plays a crucial role in overseeing the planning process and conducting regular updates to ensure the entire board remains informed. The planning phase, spanning three to four months, involves several meetings where the ad hoc committee, acting on behalf of the board, actively shapes the agenda for the strategy day. The entire board or the designated ad hoc committee must remain actively involved throughout the planning process, underscoring the importance of continuous communication and collaboration.
It is paramount for the board or the ad hoc committee to agree on the broad scope and agenda for the strategy day. The scope is inherently dynamic and will vary based on the organisation’s context and lifecycle stage. Whether reviewing and signing off on a three or five-year strategic plan or adapting to changes post-IPO, the strategy day’s focus and objectives will differ. Consideration of the organisation’s purpose, vision, values, and aspirations is essential. The board should carefully assess the organisation’s context and lifecycle stage, ensuring that the agreed-upon scope aligns with the strategic needs of the organisation at that specific point in time. Neglecting to involve the board in this critical aspect may compromise the effectiveness of the strategy day and hinder its ability to drive meaningful discussions and decisions.
A common pitfall in strategic planning
When boards wait for the ELT to present a strategic plan without providing clear directives beforehand, trouble ensues. A more effective approach involves fostering a robust discussion between the board and the ELT regarding the board’s expectations for the plan. This proactive engagement ensures a more thoughtful and aligned strategic plan and aids the executives responsible for its development.
Boards should articulate specific expectations concerning vital metrics such as new investments, capital expenditure, risk, profit trajectory, and cash flow. Clear expectations can extend to non-financial measures like employee engagement and Net Promoter Score (NPS). Early board engagement enhances the likelihood that the entire board will take ownership of the plan once approved, fostering a sense of collective responsibility.
In preparation for the strategy day, boards commonly opt for an external expert to act as a facilitator, allowing the chair or CEO to actively participate in workshop discussions. However, the key to success lies in appointing an experienced facilitator who aligns culturally with the board and possesses the necessary gravitas. Engaging the facilitator in the planning process is crucial to avoid last-minute surprises for both the board and the facilitator. This proactive involvement ensures the facilitator is well-versed in the board’s expectations, contributing to a seamlessly executed strategy day that maximises engagement and productivity.
Agreeing on the scope
A shortlist of objectives ensures a focused approach, allowing time for robust discussions and the exploration of ideas. This strategic planning is crucial to prevent the day from becoming overwhelmed and to create an environment conducive to productive decision-making.
In preparation for the strategy day, it is essential to solicit specific board input before the event and share it among the attendees. Board Surveys recommends utilising a pre-strategy day questionnaire to gather insights from directors on key organisational priorities, opportunities, and challenges over the next five years. This input helps directors prepare and focus their thinking and sets the stage for more targeted discussions during the strategy day. Incorporating pre-work into the planning process saves time, provides valuable perspectives, and increases the likelihood of achieving the desired outcomes for the strategy day.
The choice of venue, facilities, and overall environment significantly influences the success of the strategy day. Opting for a location away from the regular meeting venue and a well-planned setup contribute to a conducive atmosphere for creative thinking and discussions. A bright, well-ventilated space with appropriate facilities and well-timed breaks helps maintain engagement and attentiveness. It is crucial not to overlook the detailed planning of venue logistics, including room layout and equipment. These considerations are vital in ensuring the seamless flow of the day’s activities.
Finally, planning for a robust post-mortem from the outset is essential. This involves reflecting on the success factors, including adherence to the earlier prerequisites, and gathering feedback from attendees on whether the day met expectations or fell short in any areas. Conducting the post-mortem before attendees leave for the day ensures timely input and sets the foundation for refining the planning process for future strategy days.