Tag Archive for: Leadership

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.

Guide to Strategic Planning: Part 1

The art of strategic planning is not just about forecasting the future but creating a roadmap that navigates through uncertainties to achieve sustainable growth.  But unfortunately for most, strategic planning rarely delivers on the promise.  At best, it provides some general direction and guidance.  At worst, it’s an expensive and unproductive day that could have been spent better serving customers.

My journey in strategic planning began in 1992, and since then, I’ve had the privilege of crafting over one hundred strategic plans. This experience spans my tenure as an employee responsible for strategic planning, later evolving into roles at PwC, and culminating as the principal of Board Associates. Throughout these roles, I’ve created good plans and bad plans, concise plans, voluminous plans and even plans in posters and murals.  In the spirit of giving back to the business community, I offer this series of articles on strategic planning with the aim of educating and sharing my experiences and mistakes so that we can all learn together.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do” Michael Porter

The Foundation of Strategic Excellence

As we approach the time of year when businesses start to think about their strategic direction, I want to share resources that have significantly influenced my approach to strategic planning.  In the first instance, I want to refer you to two cornerstone books that provide both foundational knowledge and actionable steps for crafting effective strategic plans.

Great by Choice by Jim Collins is an indispensable resource that delves into the essence of successful business strategy. This book is my favourite and a must-read for business owners, offering insights into creating environments where businesses not only survive but thrive. It’s an entertaining read, backed by rigorous research comparing businesses that have outperformed their peers by leaps and bounds. “Great by Choice” is an essential read for those seeking to understand the ingredients that underpin exceptional performance and best practice.

Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley provides a pragmatic approach to strategic planning. Having used and been trained in numerous methodologies over the years, I regard this book as a distillation of the strategic planning process to its most effective elements. It serves as a guide that demystifies the strategic planning process, making it accessible to all. This book is particularly beneficial for those looking to create strategic plans that are both impactful and straightforward.

Moving Forward with Strategic Planning

This post essentially directs you to my favourite “primers” for strategic planning. In future posts, I will delve deeper into the nuances of strategic planning, sharing my insights and best practices honed from decades of experience (and mistakes!). Expect to explore tips and strategies that will help you craft strategic plans that are both concise and potent, enabling you to avoid common pitfalls and inefficiencies that the majority of owners suffer from.

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:

Final Thoughts

Strategic planning is more than a task; it’s a journey of discovery and adaptation. As you embark on or continue this journey, “Great by Choice” and “Playing to Win” are invaluable companions that offer wisdom and guidance. I look forward to sharing more insights and engaging with the business community to enhance our collective understanding of this important ‘guide rail’ for business success.

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.

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.