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Posts tagged ‘Strategy’

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 2)

As a follow-up to my earlier blog post on this topic, below is the agenda of our meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

Strategic Café

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] I’d be happy to help.

Strategic Café

Agenda – Day 2

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Presentation of our initiatives for the next 6 months (8:30 to 11:00)

Strategic Café

Pause (11:00 to 11:30)

Strategic Café

Prioritization of our initiatives for the next 6 months (11:30 to 12:15)

Lunch (12:15 to 1:00)

Strategic Café

World Café – Strategic assessment of our environment (1:00 to 2:30)

Background: To correctly set up our strategies, we must understand the environment in which we operate for: our consulting service, our products, and our training.

Question: What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each sector of activity?


  • Products
  • Products
  • Consulting Service
  • Consulting Service
  • Training

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 12 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

Pause (2:30 to 3:00)

World Café – Operational improvements (3:00 to 4:30)

Background: In order to continue our growth, we must give ourselves the means to grow up, what are the improvements that wants to carry out: sales, marketing, finance, human resources and SME.
Question: How does improve on our operations to do the goals we had set?
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Subject Matter Experts
Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

Strategic Café

The Strategic Café or “A bottom-up approach to setting a corporate strategy” (Day 1)

If you ever had a chance to participate in a Strategy Definition meeting, you either had a good time because YOU were dictating the strategy to follow or had an awful experience because your recommendations were totally altered, down-graded to a point of irrelevance or blown out of proportion making them un-achievable. Needless to say, for most people a Strategy Definition meeting is an experience comparable to a visit to the dentist for a root canal.

As I already mentioned, not only is our organizational structure different from most organizations but so is our strategic process. As opposed to a top-down Strategy Definition where the Top Executives come up with the Strategy, we use a bottom-up approach. Once again, we rely on the wisdom of the crowd to come up with the best strategy we can achieve. Not only is the strategy sound, it also removes the need to obtain buy-in after the fact since employees participated in the definition of their strategy.

We’ve implemented a Balanced Score Cards approach to our strategic planning process 6 months ago. This approach is helping us move forward but the format of our previous meetings left a lot of room for improvement. After asking around for an alternate approach for the meeting, François suggested we try a World Café format. After reading about the principles and the book (The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter), we spent time preparing and planning for the meeting. Needless to say, the Strategic Café was a huge success.

World Café used to Define the Corporate Strategy

I want to sharing with you the agenda of the meeting as well as the questions asked during the sessions. If you are not already doing so, I strongly recommend you start using this facilitation approach to improve your meetings – including your next Strategy Definition meeting.

If you would like more information on how to organize your own Strategic Café, you can drop me an email (martin [at] I’d be happy to help.

Agenda – Day 1

Breakfast (8:00 to 8:25)

Welcome and meeting introduction (8:25 to 8:30)

Warming up the brain cells (8:30 to 8:45)

We asked participants to compete in a friendly game of Rush Hour. The intend was to introduce a fun element in the day in preparation for the meeting.

Strategic Café

World Café – Retrospection of the previous 6 months (8:45 to 10:30)

Background: What should be done to improve the organization on the following 5 dimensions: communication, accountability, prioritization, leadership and decision making?

Question: What are the challenges encountered within the organization and what is my contribution to meeting these challenges?

5 Tables: Communication, Accountability, Prioritization, Leadership, and Decision Making.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 15 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Each of the 5 paper-table-cloths is assigned to an individual responsible to come up with a plan of actions.

Strategic Café

Pause (10:30 to 11:00)

Presentation of the new governance model (11:00 to 12:30)

Unfortunately, this part is confidential 😉

Lunch (12:30 to 1:15)

Strategic Café

World Café – Improvement to the well-being of people (1:15 to 3:00)

Background: In 1 year from now, what will be the impact of our organization on the following 4 sectors: employees, existing customers, stakeholders, and potential customers?

Question: What programs should we develop to meet our objective of improving people’s well-being?

4 Tables: Employees, Existing Customers, Potential Customers, and Society.

Mechanics: The participants are allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall on which the organization would invest time, energy and resources to move forward.

Strategic Café

Pause (3:00 to 3:30)

Strategic Café

World Café – Selection criteria to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months (3:30 to 5:15)

Background: Given the limited resources and the large number of initiatives within our organization, which criteria do we want to use to prioritize and select the initiative that we will move forward using the following areas: Financial, Customer experience, and Employee learning and growth?

Question: Which criteria we will use to determine our priorities?

3 Tables: Financial, Customer Experience, and Employee Learning and Growth

Mechanics: The participants were allowed 20 minutes at each table.

At the end of the exercise: Participants were asked to select the top 4 priorities for each of the sectors and write them on a master flip-chart. Participants were then asked to vote to select the top 4 priorities overall. Those would become the criteria used to prioritize our initiatives for the next 6 months.

Strategic Café

Dinner (6:00 to 8:30)

As an analogy to our Strategic Meeting, we had organized dinner at O’Noir.

I’ll be publishing Day 2 of our meeting shortly.

Comments from the peanut gallery…

Let me start by affirming I am in favor of democratic structures in “for-profit” organizations. I believe people should have a say in decisions, no doubts about that. In my opinion, the concept of democracy is closely related to the wisdom of crowds where diverse opinions from a larger group of people systematically leads to better decisions and solutions.

Comments from the peanut gallery

Comments from the peanut gallery

Now that’s established, I want to make a distinction between democracy (participating in the selection of the decision) and the discussions leading to decisions – which I will call the debates.

The debate is not a democratic process. Let me use an example to explain why I have an issue with opening debates to crowds.

Following another disappointing loss of our local hockey team, a few colleagues gathered in the cafeteria were loudly debating their opinion on the cause of the team’s poor performance…

  • Paul: “Price [the goal tender] doesn’t deserve to play with the team, he lacks consistency…”
  • Mario: “What do you mean? Price did what he could but he can’t do everything. With Markov’s and Gill’s injury our defensive line is weak and Price is too often left to himself…”
  • Richard: “Did you guys watch the same game I did? We have no offensive line. We gave a lot of talent to bring Cammalleri to Montreal but he is just not the scorer we need and nobody actually has the right skills…”
  • Mary: “No, no. It’s the referee who influenced the game…”

I’ll stop here but that is enough to show my point. How many of these people do you believed played in the NHL? None.

How many of these people took coaching training or even played junior hockey? None.

How many of these opinions are actually useful to make the right decision? None. That’s right!

This is what my wife calls the “comments from the peanut gallery“.

Let me use another brief example to prove my point further.

Assume a skilled people manager joins his highly technical team for a brain storming session. The team is looking to improve performance of their Java application and the tension in the room is high.  The manager – for sake of clarity, doesn’t have a clue about computer programming except maybe for a 3 hours introduction to Microsoft Excel taken 5 years ago – suggests to replace the framework and maybe the sorting method. What are the chances that his suggestion will be accepted? None.

The same situation applies when people with no management experience or training jump into a discussion about people management or organizational strategies. To take part of the discussion there needs to be a few pre-requisites. It is not enough to want to participate in the discussion, to really contribute people need: knowledge of the topic being discussed, experience, and a willingness to move the debate forward.

What is not needed is a personal opinion without facts, knowledge or experience but this is exactly what happens when a debate is open to the general public. When these conditions are met (knowledge, experience, and willingness), people should be welcomed to join the discussion so to take advantage of the wisdom of crowds. When these conditions aren’t met, people should stay on the sideline waiting for the debate to end and propositions to be open for selection.

Just like in the Canadian Parliament, a selected (elected) number of people were selected to represent others in the discussion. Once options are selected, the democratic process can allow people to vote.

Simple Definition of Strategy

I’m spending a lot of time working on our Strategy these days and working with colleagues to define our objectives in order to achieve the corporate vision. Coincidentally, I got to the section of the book (Winning) where Jack Welch describes his perspective about strategy and his three steps to defining a good strategy.

In a nutshell, Welch states that strategy isn’t much more than selecting and prioritizing the right activities in order to achieve the vision. More specifically, he explains that strategy as promoted by strategy gurus is overly complex and that the process can be simplified to deliver better value. In simple terms, determining which activities (at a macro level) are required to reach the vision, prioritizing and sequencing them logically, and then allocating the right amount of resources to achieve them.

Once we understand Welch’s perspective on strategy, it becomes easier to understand his threes steps:

Step 1: Come up with a big “Ah Ha” for your business – a revelation, an insight that will give you a true competitive advantage within your industry

Step 2: Put the right people in the right job to drive the “Ah Ha” forward – matching the right personal attributes to the task at hand is critical

Step 3: Relentlessly seek out Best Practices to pursue your big “Ah Ha” – develop and/or borrow best practices to establish a competitive advantage.

Although it may sound simplistic, I like these 3 steps as it forces the organization to pick a direction to take and then work hard at implementing the strategy. Welch’s perspective of strategy is very similar to what we use within our organisation. Strategy is an approximate course of action that needs to be revisited and redefined according to market conditions. Strategy is an iterative process and more time should be spent implementing the strategy than defining it.

Owner of the Strategic Process

I officially took on the role of Strategic Process Owner. My role is to own (and lead) the process and ensure it works well in order to define and implement a global strategy to achieve our corporate vision.

The strategic process will look like this – more on this topic in an upcoming post.

Strategic Process

Strategic Process

As owner of the process, I am responsible for:

  • overall effectiveness of the process;
  • working closely with the leaders of the various areas of responsibility so the organization supports them in achieving their objective;
  • updating the backlog of objectives and activities required to achieve the strategy;
  • setting SMART goals in relation to the strategic map and ensuring coordination and alignment of objectives between the various leaders;
  • promoting constructive exchanges in relation to the objectives and potential opportunities to achieve them;
  • maintaining a decision log and following up on the items moved to the “parking lot” for future discussions;
  • communicating the process to all stakeholders and communicating the strategy to all employees;
  • establishing and using performance measurement to monitor progress toward achieving the vision;
  • holding the meetings and ensuring attendance;
  • ensuring commitment and support of the process by all parties.

In a nutshell, this management role is similar to the role of the Scrum Master in software development projects. We are adapting (as much as possible) the Agile principles to the management of the organization, in the hopes of establishing Agile Management.

Some companies are like 8 year-old boys

Does your company loose its focus?

Does your company loose its focus?

I was teaching my 8 year-old son how to make a grilled-cheese sandwich on the week-end and realized that some companies do act like little children.

At home, we have a rule that the twins are not allowed to use the stove unless there is a parent around to supervise them. Our objective is to allow them to learn and experiment while we control some of the risks. So in line with our rule, my son asked if I could teach him to make a grilled-cheese sandwich.

After I explained the steps, he took out the ingredients – bread, butter, and Swiss cheese. He turned on the stove and warmed-up his pan. He then buttered the slices of bread and put them on the warm pan.

He turned to me and said “I’ll be right back. I want to bring in the house my rubber dinosaurs before the rain starts“. He dashed through the kitchen and out the patio door while I stood next to the stove. Two minutes passed and my son wasn’t back. I could turn over the bread so it wouldn’t burn but I realized this could be an opportunity for him to learn something.

I walked to the patio door to see why he wasn’t back in the house… The rubber dinosaurs were still on the patio table and my son was trying to pick up a caterpillar. Indeed, this was an opportunity to learn. I opened the door and told him “your bread is burning“…

Some companies act exactly the same way. They launch an important project and then get distracted by a cute project along the way. The distractions do not always need to be shinny objects for people to loose focus. Eventually, someone needs to remind them that the original project is about to go bad or worst, the company is about to loose some big business.

Sometimes, only the bread burns but in other circumstances the entire house can catch fire…