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The Top Prerequisites to Ensure a Successful Board Strategy Day


The top prerequisites to ensure a successful board strategy day

A board strategy day is a crucial occasion for a board to spend quality time together and focus on their organisation’s long-term direction and purpose. It is a less formal and structured environment where board members can come together and dive deeper into significant issues, discuss the organisation’s opportunities and challenges, and align themselves with the executive leadership team (ELT) around the organisation’s most significant strategic priorities.

Regrettably, many directors and executives have shared that their board strategy days were not well-planned, poorly facilitated, and packed with too many presentations and activities, failing to achieve the desired outcomes. This is a missed opportunity to make the most of this crucial time.

Board strategy days should be a defining moment for the board and the organisation. It is a time when directors and executives can look back and say that it was the day when they and their ELT became aligned and committed to an ambitious and compelling future direction and strategy for their organisation. However, organising a successful board strategy day requires deliberate thinking, engagement, and planning, which can make all the difference.

So, let’s look at the top prerequisites to ensure a successful board strategy day.


Ensure thorough planning and preparation

Unfortunately, the primary reason why board strategy days often fail to meet expectations is due to poor planning or, even worse, last-minute planning. Some CEOs and ELTs might make the mistake of assuming that they can use the previous year’s process and agenda as the basis for the upcoming board strategy day and plan accordingly. However, this is a recipe for disaster.

To ensure a successful board strategy day, the chair, CEO, and board should start discussing the event’s objectives and primary focus at least four months in advance. These discussions can pick up from the post-mortem held after the last strategy day, where overall plans for the next strategy day were outlined, and any proposed changes and improvements were agreed upon.

The planning phase is crucial for setting the tone and direction of the board strategy day. A well-planned event ensures that everyone is aligned and prepared to participate in meaningful discussions, resulting in productive outcomes.

To further emphasise the importance of planning, here are a few key benefits:

  1. It allows for ample time to identify critical issues and prioritise discussion topics.
  2. It provides adequate time to gather necessary data and research to support discussions and decision-making.
  3. It ensures that all stakeholders are on the same page regarding the event’s objectives and expectations.
  4. It enables the organisers to book the most suitable venue and secure the necessary resources.
  5. It provides ample time to prepare for presentations and allocates sufficient time for discussion and reflection.


Strengths and weaknesses (concerning strategy)

Identifying your board’s strengths and weaknesses in advance allows for appropriate improvements to be made, resulting in a more effective event. Boards need to excel in three main areas here:

  1. Establishing a strong foundation for the organisation’s strategy
  2. Following robust processes during strategy development
  3. Prioritising, communicating, and monitoring the strategy effectively

To establish a strong foundation for the organisation’s strategy, boards must have a compelling purpose and vision that are being followed throughout the organisation. The organisation’s values should also drive a productive culture that enables strategy execution. Without these elements, developing a robust strategy that can be executed will be challenging.

During the strategy’s preparation, development, and approval, boards must follow robust processes in several areas. This includes conducting comprehensive market and competitor analysis, identifying strategic opportunities and threats, assessing organisational capabilities and resources, and developing a clear roadmap for implementation.

To ensure the successful execution of the strategy, clear prioritisation, communication, and monitoring are essential. Boards must communicate the strategy effectively to all stakeholders, prioritise initiatives that align with it, and monitor progress regularly to make necessary adjustments.

To help boards identify their collective strengths and weaknesses, they can complete our sister brand, Board Benchmarking’s strategy effectiveness survey, which will be launched in late April 2023. This survey comprises 30 best practice strategy survey items and two open questions. It takes around 10 minutes to complete. The resulting report provides clear insights into the board and executive team’s perceptions of their individual and collective strengths and areas for improvement.

Important note:  Be sure to keep the entire board engaged in the strategy planning process. Often, an ad hoc committee or group consisting of the chair, CEO, and another director, is delegated to oversee the planning and provide regular updates to the board. However, it is crucial to involve the entire board or at least the ad hoc committee on behalf of the board in the planning process, which may require several meetings over three to four months.

If the ad hoc committee is tasked with shaping the agenda for the strategy day, they must ensure that the board is regularly updated on the planning process and progress towards the goals set out. Doing so will make the entire board better prepared to contribute and provide feedback during the strategy day, making it a more collaborative and productive experience.


Setting the agenda and scope

Organisations typically prepare strategic plans with different timeframes, ranging from three to five years or longer. Therefore, a strategy day to review and approve the strategic plan for the next five years will differ from a strategy day two years into the five-year plan. Moreover, a strategic planning day for a company that has recently undergone an IPO may prioritise meeting the prospectus forecasts rather than having a long-term outlook.

At certain points in an organisation’s lifecycle, it becomes crucial to reassess its purpose, vision, and values and determine if its aspirations are ambitious enough. Therefore, before agreeing on the agenda for the upcoming strategy day, the board should carefully evaluate the organisation’s context and the aforementioned matters.

Additionally, too many boards make the mistake of waiting for the ELT to prepare the organisation’s strategic plan without providing any clear direction beforehand. The board is then presented with the plan, asked to approve it, and may amend it.

A more effective process would involve a thorough discussion between the board and the ELT regarding the board’s expectations for the plan. This approach not only promotes good governance but also assists executives in their development. The board should always communicate their specific expectations concerning crucial metrics, such as new investments, capital expenditures, risk management, profit trajectory, and cash flow.

Additionally, the board may want to establish clear expectations for non-financial measures such as employee engagement and net promoter score (NPS). Early engagement between the board and ELT can result in the entire board taking more ownership of the strategic plan once approved.


Involving an external facilitator from the beginning

Most boards prefer having an external expert as a facilitator during their strategy day. By doing so, the chair or CEO can actively participate in the workshop discussions rather than being preoccupied with running the day.

If your board intends to hire an external facilitator, it is crucial to choose someone experienced and with the right cultural fit for your board. In addition, to prevent last-minute surprises, ensure the appointed facilitator is engaged in the planning. This will guarantee a smooth experience for both the board and the facilitator.

With the facilitator’s help, you can avoid the common mistake of attempting to cover too many topics. Filling the day with presentations leaves minimal time for in-depth discussions and exploring ideas. Creating a shortlist of objectives and desired outcomes can help streamline the agenda, prevent overloading the day, and avoid filling it with presentations.


Gather input before your strategy day

We always recommend giving directors the opportunity to provide their input before the day. While pre-reading materials are usually provided, asking directors to stretch their minds and think critically before the day can add focus and depth to the discussions on the day.

An easy way to do this is by sending out a pre-strategy day questionnaire to proposed attendees, comprising a few high-level questions that differ depending on the scope and objectives of the day. For example, questions may include identifying the organisation’s current priorities that will add the most value over the next five years, the most significant opportunities to be exploited, and the biggest challenges the organisation will likely face.

The questionnaire responses can be returned to attendees verbatim and anonymously, or they can be summarised and themed and provided in advance of the day. Sometimes, a few survey items are included in the questionnaire to test assumptions. This pre-work often saves significant time and helps discussions be much more focused and productive on the strategy day, increasing the likelihood of achieving the desired outcomes.


Final considerations to ensure success

For the location and room setup of your strategy day, consider using a non-traditional meeting venue to promote creative thinking and discussions. The space should be bright, well-ventilated, and have appropriate facilities and breaks should be used to keep everyone engaged and attentive. Careful planning of room layout and resources such as whiteboards is also crucial for a seamless day.

It is also vital to plan for a thorough post-mortem, gathering feedback from attendees to identify areas of success and improvement. It is best to conduct the post-mortem before attendees leave for the day to ensure their input is included. With the insights gained from the post-mortem, you can develop a template to ensure even more successful strategy days as well!



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