Guide to Strategic Planning: Part 2 – Setting a Vision

Setting a Clear Direction: The Foundation of Strategic Planning Success

In the landscape of business strategy, the importance of a clear direction cannot be overstressed. It’s the compass that guides every decision, action, and investment in your business. Yet, establishing this direction is often where many stumble, not for lack of ambition, but due to the overwhelming pressure to define a grand vision.

“Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
John F Kennedy

The Myth of the Moonshot

Many leaders feel the pressure to articulate a “big, hairy, audacious goal” or a moonshot vision for their business. While having such a goal can be inspiring, it’s not the only path to success. The reality is, not every business is aiming to redefine an industry or capture a global market. For many, the ambition to improve incrementally—to be slightly better this year than the last—is a perfectly valid and admirable goal.

Embracing Your Business’s True Intent

The core of strategic planning lies in understanding your business’s intent. What role does it play in the market, the community, or in the lives of your customers? If defining a long-term vision feels daunting, narrow your focus. Concentrate on what you can achieve now or in the near future. This approach doesn’t diminish your aspirations; it clarifies them, making your goals more attainable and relevant – from small things, big things grow!

Avoiding the Common Pitfall: Misaligned Goals

A critical error in setting business direction is adopting goals that don’t resonate with your values or the essence of your business. Claims of wanting to be a “market leader” abound, but if such a position doesn’t align with what you genuinely care about, then it’s a hollow aim. Your strategic plan should reflect your business’s authentic aspirations, not just what you think should be your goals.

The Value of Every Vision

For those who see their business primarily as a means to provide for themselves, their families, or their employees, your reason for being is clear and as significant as any. Whether your business was chosen or inherited, it holds the potential for impact. The value you create, the jobs you provide, and the community you serve—all of these are critical contributions.

Join the Conversation

I am committed to education and fostering a dialogue around strategic planning so I invite you to join me in this conversation. Monthly, from February to April, I will host a lunch & learn session dedicated to discussing strategic planning in an informal setting. This is an opportunity to delve deeper into strategic planning, ask questions, and share insights with peers. If you’d like to participate, you can register for one of the upcoming lunch & learn sessions here:

Conclusion: Finding Your Strategic North Star

Setting a clear direction for your business doesn’t require an earth-shattering vision. It requires honesty about what you want to achieve and why. Whether your goals are monumental or modest, they are yours to define and pursue. As we continue to explore strategic planning, remember that the journey is as unique as your business. Stay tuned for more insights on navigating this path effectively.

Reflecting on our Advisory Board Meetings: Insights and Actions for Q1

At Board Associates, we believe in the transformative power of strategic advisory boards. Our first-quarter advisory board meetings have yielded valuable insights in key areas such as corporate governance, financial management, leadership development, and strategic planning workshops. This piece aims to share these insights and provide actionable steps for business owners and leaders to enhance their performance.

Corporate Governance in Family Businesses: Rethinking Traditional Models

Matthew Dunstan, our founder and a respected scholar at QUT’s Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research, has uncovered surprising findings in corporate governance within family firms. His research, focusing on optimising governance for financial excellence, suggests that different family businesses may require distinct governance models. Key takeaways include:

  1. The Advantage of Informal Governance in Mature Firms: Mature family firms might benefit more from informal governance structures, challenging the usual push for formalisation.
  2. The Role of Corporate Governance in Young Firms: Younger firms appear to thrive under small, informal governance setups.
  3. CEO and Board Dynamics: A balance between CEO involvement and board independence is crucial for financial success in family-run businesses.

Action for Owners: Family business owners are encouraged to reassess their governance structures in light of these findings. For further guidance, explore our articles on family business and governance, and consider participating in our ongoing research. You can register your interest by contacting

Financial Management and Hidden Cash Reserves

In one of our portfolio companies, we’ve driven a remarkable six-fold growth over the last few years. Last quarter, however, we encountered an unexpected financial challenge. Despite intentionally moderating growth to allow profits to flow into the cash reserves, the company’s cash balance unexpectedly declined. The causes of the problem were not evident in standard financial reports, so we undertook an in-depth financial analysis working with one of our partners.

The analysis went beyond the typical data of profit & loss statements and cash flow forecasts. Instead, we focused on three additional but seldom used financial metrics that proved pivotal in diagnosing the root causes affecting the company’s cash flow dynamics. These were the working capital absorption rate, the movement of working capital and the movement of debt on the balance sheet. This analysis revealed that subtle changes in the balance between profits, cash, working capital, equity and debt compounded to create a situation where the company was profit-rich but cash-poor.

This case serves as an essential lesson for business owners, particularly highlighting the need for a comprehensive financial health check during periods of growth or turbulence. It underscores the importance of looking beyond surface-level financial reports and considering a broader spectrum of financial metrics.

Action for Owners:  If your cash at bank balance is declining, you should consider undertaking a more detailed financial analysis of the causes and, more importantly, create a new set of financial management guidelines to protect the business. Our team at Board Associates can help.

A Team-Led Approach to Setting Strategy

At Board Associates, we have pioneered a transformative approach called ‘Quick Wins’ workshops, expertly guided by our People and Culture Specialist, Belinda Straughn Winks. These workshops engage all staff members in focused discussions, applying qualitative research methods such as thematic analysis to transform direct feedback into actionable data.

This bottom-up approach to strategy uniquely uncovers critical business issues and solutions as perceived by the team. It’s a novel way of shaping strategic imperatives, enhancing workplace culture, productivity, and staff retention, while uncovering hidden management blind spots.  (Read more)

Action for Owners: Leaders have an opportunity to define and deliver new, tangible benefits for the business and to do so in a way that brings staff together and empowers them.  If you feel there is more potential in your team, a Quick Wins workshop is a fast and affordable way to create immediate value.

The Importance of Depth in the “Senior Management Bench”

It’s not uncommon for business owners to find themselves rolling up their sleeves and diving back into day-to-day operations to support their management team. While such involvement can offer immediate operational support, it often comes at the cost of neglecting the strategic work essential for long-term growth. Owners frequently find themselves caught in a cycle of ‘two steps forward, one step backward’, where progress is hampered by the constant need to put out fires.

This year, we have observed several instances where businesses struggled to maintain momentum due to the owners’ frequent need to step into operational roles. In these cases, lacking a solid and capable management team meant critical strategic initiatives were sidelined.

Forward-Thinking Solution: Building depth on the senior management bench is vital. This not only alleviates the burden on the business owner, allowing them to focus on strategic growth but also ensures the business is equipped to handle challenges effectively without always relying on the owner.

Long-Term Benefits: Building your bench of senior management talent might seem difficult or expensive, but the long-term gains in efficiency and strategic growth are invaluable. It is also critical for the future valuation of your business.

Action for Owners:  Ask yourself this question:  If I stepped away from the business now, could the team continue to run it as I would? If the answer is no, you must implement actions to build your senior management bench. Board Associates has experience in executive coaching, mentoring and leadership development programs that may be able to assist.

Strategic Planning Clarity: Focusing on What Truly Matters

In business strategy, clarity and focus are not only vital, they are liberating. A prime example is one of our client companies, currently valued at $7 million. The owner has set a bold aspiration to elevate the business’s value to $40 million within a few years. Achieving such an ambitious goal is no small feat and requires a razor-sharp focus on key growth drivers. Through several rounds of strategic planning, we have identified the four critical imperatives essential to realise this objective.

These four imperatives have become our cornerstone and helped elevate the conversations around the advisory board. With this clarity, every advisory board meeting is now centred around these “four jobs to be done”. Furthermore, this clarity extends to the incentivisation of the CEO – their reward structures are tailored to drive performance specifically in these four areas. This alignment ensures that the CEO’s efforts directly contribute to the business’s strategic objectives.

This experience raises important questions for all business leaders:

  • Do you have a clearly defined intent for your business?
  • Have you identified the critical “jobs to get done”?
  • Is your team aligned around these objectives?

A clear strategic focus and aligning your team around specific goals is fundamental to driving substantial growth. It simplifies decision-making and streamlines efforts across the organisation, setting the stage for accelerated growth and achievement of ambitious targets.

Action for Owners:  What are the three or four things your company must deliver to drive strategic growth? If you can’t answer this question, don’t worry – most leaders can’t, but that’s the opportunity. Board Associates’ Strategic Planning Workshops may be able to assist.

In conclusion, these insights from our Q1 advisory board meetings underscore the breadth of expertise and support available at Board Associates. For more detailed exploration of these topics or to engage with our advisory services, contact us at for tailored advice and solutions

A New Model of Board Effectiveness




Lencioni’s model is built on the following premise:

  1. Pursuit of a clear goal requires commitment and accountability from the whole team,
  2. this won’t be truly present if there is a lack of buy-in from all members.
  3. buy-in can only be achieved in an environment where the options have been fully debated and
  4. open debate can only be achieved in an environment of trust, where people speak frankly and with full participation.


Following are 5 key questions to ask your Board or Executive team (and some tips we discovered from running the workshop):


This is a different take on the usual strategic planning approach where we work on a few priorities simultaneously and delegate these across the organisation.  Instead, the idea is to select a single, short term goal which cuts across the organisation and which everyone needs to get behind.

This was a challenging exercise because everyone has a slightly different take on what is the “single most important thing”.  What we found worked best was to set the ‘job to be done’ within the context of the broader strategy (ie: it doesn’t replace it). It also worked best when expressed as a business outcome rather than a financial goal.

For example, we considered a sales target, a production milestone and revenue goal.  The actual goal selected was a channel development goal over the next 4 months which would then pull through (automatically) a number of other major initiatives in its wake.


The usual approach to the execution of the strategic plan, is to divide & conquer.  Lencioni’s approach however says that in the case of the single overriding goal (what I’m calling the “job to be done”), everyone contributes.  It doesn’t sit in a single silo or department. Instead it’s so important that everyone is on the hook for it and everyone is required to hold one another accountable for progress.


Patrick Lencioni makes the observation that it’s too easy for people to sit on the side line and say “that’s their goal, their department. I don’t need to worry about that”. Instead, this approach demands full buy-in from everyone around the table.  There are no observers.

In our case, we were considering a $20m investment.  We had to move the project (and our mindset) from 1 person’s responsibility for success (ie: a Department Head), to the group taking mutual responsibility for success. Interestingly, this also required the leader of the project to give up a degree of ownership and accept other people’s involvement.


Like many organisations, there was a degree of ‘diplomacy’ at work around the table (ie: people not wanting to rock the boat).  As such, there was an absence of debate.  This was creating an environment of limited buy-in to decisions and reinforcing siloed behaviour.

To break this habit we had to invite active debate. We forced one another to express and understand opposing views and when faced with easy consensus, tested that through questions such as “someone give me a contrary view here” or “someone make an argument against this”.


If people are guarding their words or not sharing their real views, there can’t be full and active debate. This team was finding it difficult to separate the issue from the person. They were concerned that speaking their mind would come back and bite them at them at a later date.

This is a big hurdle and yet crucial if a group is going to fully debate and explore options for the ultimate benefit of the organisation.  A lack of trust is a hard one to overcome and not something that can be fixed overnight, but it’s important to start the process.  We began down this road by using a form of 360 degree feedback so that the group could reflect on and appreciate one another’s strengths.


In an environment of increased focus on Board and leadership effectiveness, Patrick Lencioni provides a great approach to achieving results through better decision making, commitment and focus.  More importantly, it gives a Board or executive team a common language to tackle the issues that get in the way of team effectiveness and begin the journey toward a high performing team.

“Board Associates takes a workshop approach to Board effectiveness, beginning with an initial review and then together with the Board, creating a development plan and agenda to work on over the following year. Contact us to find out more.

Transformation: The Board’s Missing Agenda Item

Yet another corporate collapse brings into sharp relief an issue which seems to be missing from the agenda in Boardrooms around Australia: Stewardship of Transformation.

Disruptive consumer and competitive trends are not new and yet many fail to respond. I wonder then, how active this discussion is in the Boardroom?  In my view there is a clear imperative to “re-tool” our organisations for the business models of the future. It is fundamental to the sustainability of our organisations and to our duty as Directors.

 there is a clear imperative to “re-tool” our organisations

But what to do about it… I’d like to offer my own perspectives and “questions for the Board” as follows:

  1. Board Composition: is there sufficient cognitive diversity on the Board? Are there skills & experience in innovation and new business models (not just IT)?
  2. Market Sensing: Is the voice of the customer present at Board meetings (beyond NPS and satisfaction surveys). How are we detecting, reporting and responding to emerging trends?
  3. Strategy Development: How are we leading or responding to disruption? Are we looking at ways to disrupt ourselves? Are we planning for transformation or resting on the laurels of past success?
  4. Resource Allocation: Have we provided the means to foster innovation & experimentation? Have we invested sufficiently in our future selves?

In my view, the transformation imperative is clear and so to is the Board’s responsibility for the stewardship of that transformation. The challenge is that the skills to transform don’t reside in the traditional roles of marketing, HR or IT.  Instead, new disciplines such as human centred design, lean and design thinking have emerged to confront this challenge; but few organisations have them and they certainly aren’t represented in the Boardroom.

Does Your Organisation Need Liberation?

I’ve been inspired by a recent HBR article on liberating and empowering teams (Carney and Getz).  The notion of a smarter, more agile, more responsive organisation is not new and yet for most, it remains elusive. In fact, given the number of failed attempts I’ve witnessed, I would ask “is it even possible?”

Carney & Getz would say it is.  In observing over 100 companies, they found examples of increased productivity, employee engagement and bottom line performance.  In fact, in those organisations studied, engagement was almost double that of their peers. But if the benefits are there, why is it so hard for organisations to take this evolutionary leap?

creating a more engaged, productive and profitable organisation is at the heart of our mission

For Boards & Executives, creating a more engaged, productive and profitable organisation is at the heart of our mission. But before you go and hire the next ‘corporate guru’ for your annual offsite, there are some important realities (and uncomfortable truths) to think through:

  1. Leadership:  Unfortunately many of our leaders are now 3+ decades into their career and have some pretty firm views on how things are done.  I’ve seen a number of examples where leaders espouse the new world order but a) can’t bring themselves to do it and b) undermine the change through their unconscious values & behaviours.
    Question for the Board: If we set the tone from the top, are our leaders playing in tune?
  2.  Culture:  I’ve had some recent experience with organisations who talk the talk, but can’t walk the talk. Typically their organisational DNA is anchored in a past business model, culture and norms.  Waving a wand or getting up behind a lectern doesn’t change anything when you’re fighting the innate nature of a human collective. Question for the Board: Will our culture embrace liberation or will there be an auto-immune reaction to it?
  3. Management skills:  Frankly, 90% of managers couldn’t manage or lead a liberated team.  Putting ego aside and acting as a coach rather than a manager is a pretty advanced skill. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence and leadership acumen to guide people in flight without disrupting the flight pattern. The reality is, most managers don’t have what it takes and in the average organisation, this type of change would lead to chaos. Have you seen 5yr olds play soccer?
    Question for the Board: Do we have a plan to coach the coaches? Do we need a migration strategy to protect brand, customer and financial value? 
  4. Diversity:  Sure a liberated team approach would suit some people, but other personality types find these environments difficult, ambiguous and in some cases a source of anxiety. If we’ve accepted the need for and benefit of diversity, we need to cater for that in different work styles & preferences too.
    Question for the Board: How will you protect the diversity of work styles as you move to a liberated team model? 

There is no doubt that dynamic, self-organising teams can have benefits for competitiveness, customer value and long term sustainability.  But to pursue a “corporate liberation” transformation you should definitely go into with your eyes open.


This business model presents major governance challenges for an organisation.  It requires transformation of the Board’s culture and processes as much as is required in the business. For example, how would the Board:

  • Manage culture when it evolves from the bottom up?
  • Balance compliance & risk management with entrepreneurial behaviour of teams?
  • Invest & allocate resources without centralised accountability and a common measure of performance?
  • Monitor leading indicators when they vary from team to team?
  • Ensure legal & regulatory compliance when teams exercise extreme autonomy?

Despite the challenges however, the benefits can’t be ignored. Some would argue that this change to employee expectations is inevitable. That being the case, now is the time to start considering these issues and their impact on our strategy, culture and our  duty to drive performance and sustainability.

The focus of late has been on digital transformation but the imperative of organisational transformation is just as real.  Trends such as corporate liberation are just the tip of the iceberg. Now is the time to experiment and invest, understanding the needs & trends of the future employee ecosystem before they are thrust upon us.

10 Point Recipe for Success

Leading in a volatile environment we think being fast, bold and innovative is what drives success.  This week I’ve been reading “Great by Choice” (Jim Collins & Morton Hansen) and interestingly, the evidence suggests otherwise. 

Instead of innovation & agility, the research shows that a consistent and methodical application of a proven recipe is what drives success – not fast paced innovation & entrepreneurship.

“The only way to remain great is to keep on applying the fundamental principles that made you great.

— Jim Collins


Collins & Hansen encourage us to define and implement a SMaC recipe – a specific, methodical and consistent set of ingredients, practices or principles.  They don’t have to be bold, they don’t have to be sexy.  In fact, when doing this exercise myself, I found that my 10 point recipe was actually quite ‘pedestrian’. There were no super human efforts required, no super powers or clairvoyance.  Just a set of activities which come quite naturally (to me at least).  It gave me a greater sense of certainty and a simple framework for how I plan to move ahead.


My challenge to you this week is to spend 15min on defining your own SMaC recipe.  Think about what has driven your success to date and list the 10 things you attribute that to.

  • Are you still doing them now?
  • Have you embedded them into your organisation?
  • Do your team and partners know and understand the recipe?
  • Do you have a rhythm for their implementation on a day to day basis?

As someone who loves entrepreneurship and innovation, repeating the same things day in day out can seem a little mundane…but then again it’s sometimes nice to have a little more predictability in my day too.  The challenge is to hold myself accountable and keep chipping away at the small things that make a big difference.

A Business Plan Isn’t About the Document

Most organisations I’ve worked in and worked with, begrudge business planning.  Not because they don’t know how, but because it didn’t add a lot of value last time they did it.

But why doesn’t it add value?  The problem lies in the lack of direction it contains and how it’s used once it’s created.

“The value of a map comes from the direction you take from it

— Matthew Dunstan

Instead of a document, we need a roadmap.  Something that guides the evolution of the business, gives us concrete milestones and acts as a filter for every day decisions and actions.


When we crossed the Atlantic, we didn’t just point the boat east and start sailing.  We planned a route with a number of major waypoints along the way. Even when circumstances would force us off course, the overall plan still held true.  Our goal was clear.  Our route, chosen for all the right reasons, was still valid. Our waypoints still gave us a short term focus, helping us break the endeavour down into manageable pieces.


I believe business plans need this same approach.  A destination, a broad plan describing how you’re going to get there and a series of waypoints to guide you day to day.  You can document this in a number of ways, but my favourite is to show it in a Gantt chart or flow chart format.  It allows you to capture the direction, strategy and sequence on a single page that is easy to communicate and review.

[we’re running a Business Planning Masterclass in July to help leaders and entrepreneurs craft better business plans]


Of course crafting the plan is just the start.  Nothing happens without execution and this is the second challenge for business plans and those responsible for them.

Instead of regarding it as a job done, the business plan should drive the agenda of your management meetings.  To illustrate, here’s a sample of a standing management meeting agenda I use with clients.  We start every management meeting with these 3 items:

  1. Touch base with the overall plan
    • Where we’re headed & why we care (vision, mission, goals)
    • Our plan to get there (strategy, roadmap, & immediate milestones)
  2. Progress against the immediate milestone
    • Report on action items from each stakeholder
  3. New opportunities or threats to the business.
    • Validate against the plan


Starting the meeting ‘with the end in mind’ (Covey), is a great way to keep everyone on the same page and most importantly, align the actions and initiatives of the team to your plan for the business.  It helps keep the focus at a strategic level and acts as a useful filter against which you can review actions, ideas and opportunities:

  • If they contribute to or accelerate the plan, they’re in.
  • If they relate to a milestone further down the track, they’re parked.
  • If they’re not aligned to the plan, they’re out.

[Further reading: Entrepreneur’s Shiny Ball Syndrome]

With a clear direction and roadmap a business plan can act as a valuable tool guiding the day to day operations of the business.  So dust it off, reduce it to a flow chart and get it onto the management meeting agenda.

Strategic oversight and consistent implementation will focus your resources and drive your business faster than anything else.

[Rising Tide Ventures will be holding a series of Business Planning Masterclasses during July.  You can find out more or register here]