Your strategic review is a rare opportunity to take an objective overview perspective on your business. It is a time for questioning assumptions and a space in which to encourage creativity and involvement. It is not a place for rigid thinking or hackneyed business phrases. In the ideal business world, all meetings should accomplish one or more of four things. They should 1) Generate new ideas to add value. 2) Share information. 3) Build a common purpose and buy-in. 4) Plan what to do to solve current problems and roadblocks.
At your strategic timeout, you should focus on things 1 to 3 with these two goals in mind…
1. Doing better before doing cheaper. “Miracle worker” businesses consistently search for ideas to compete on factors other than price. Typical factors, other than price, that take your business to exceptional profit are durability, functionality, brand, style, etc. Your customers don’t see it on the invoice, but they really appreciate getting it.
2. Revenue before costs. Cutting costs and or shedding assets are too often the default paths taken by “average Joe” businesses. At your strategic review, be sure to put revenue first. In the long run, “miracle worker” businesses can charge premium prices while giving greater apparent value to customers.
You will invest a great deal of time in preparing your strategic timeout, so be sure to think about the actual words you will use. If you find yourself thinking any of these common business clichés, then think again!
● “Don’t bring me problems.I want solutions!” This phrase is not just dismissive; it is not true. You do want to hear your teams’ problems because they are also opportunities to improve performance. Of course, you also want their ideas for solving problems and adding value. So, try something like this instead: “It is frustrating when… What are your thoughts on improving the situation?”
● “I’ll get back to you on that.” The underlying message of this avoidance tactic is a quick way to disengage your employees. Better by far to say something like “This is important to our business. When will we meet to give it the right consideration?”
● “In my opinion…” Or the dreadful non-joke, “when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.” It is not your role as a leader to simply exchange another’s opinion for yours. It is your role to share the data and your thoughts around all business issues. Then it is imperative that you listen with empathy to all suggestions, ideas, and feelings. Lead by example with data-driven decision-making.
● “Keep doing what you’re doing.” Was there ever an emptier piece of feedback than this? It gives the message that you are settling for the quiet life and the current performance status quo. Top-performing employees need to be challenged and average performers need to be motivated to improve. It is better to say something like “Congratulations on your personal best performance last quarter! What do you need from me to beat it next quarter?”
● “We need to think outside the box.” When you want people to come up with new ways to delight your customers, simply evoking the fabled “box” will not do the job. Their creativity needs to be focused on your commercial objectives and facilitated by one or more of the many techniques for generating lateral/diagonal/vertical or even reverse thinking. We recommend a SWOT analysis for your strategic review. An alternative phrase could be “AI in our sector is something we haven’t experienced before. It requires some different approaches on our part, I suggest a ‘what if’ brainstorm.”
To guarantee that our strategic review and all our team meetings remain productive, it is our responsibility as leaders to avoid clichéd business phrases, to give effective feedback and to engage all our employees in the productivity challenge.
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