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During in-person and online strategic planning workshops, we regularly use a strategic thinking exercise that helps leadership groups quickly identify a shared future vision statement. Participants assess where they think the organization currently is and where they want it to be in the future on multiple “strategic dimensions.” The strategic dimensions relate to significant aspirations, big goals, major strategic decisions, and other factors defining the organization.

We place each strategic dimension on a scale having multiple written descriptions of ways to approach it. The descriptions are purposely neither good nor bad; they simply represent ways an organization could pursue the strategy. This strategic thinking exercise allows a large group (perhaps hundreds of online participants) to provide targeted input on an organization’s future direction. We turn that input into a collaborative vision statement.

Pushing Back on a Strategic Thinking Exercise

Stop-Detour-Ahead

Adapting this strategic thinking exercise for a client, however, we experienced MAJOR push back. They saw it as too prescriptive, i.e., limiting participants to four strategic dimensions the CEO articulated based on meeting hundreds of employees across the organization. They suggested letting the nearly fifty participants work together to generate the strategic dimensions they could use to describe a future vision. The hope was they will come up with something similar to the original four focus areas.

So we pushed back.

The idea of a leader collaboratively determining the direction organization should go is rare. But making fifty top executives “guess” and articulate what the CEO already thinks (which is very common) is a recipe for wasted time and a frustrating strategy meeting. As regular Brainzooming readers understand, we’re proponents for using structure (instead of blank pieces of paper) to make it easy for any employee to successfully contribute to developing strategy.

An Alternative Strategic Thinking Exercise to Develop a Vision Statement

This situation got me thinking, though: If I can’t persuade them to use a strategic thinking exercise we KNOW works to create a future vision statement, what could we do differently, in nearly the same amount of meeting time (thirty to forty-five minutes) to deliver comparable results?

Future-Vision-Horizon

Here’s our alternative approach for a strategic thinking exercise that could address the client’s concerns:

Split the large group into smaller ones, sending them to big easel pad sheets around the room. Posters would contain strategic thinking questions, such as:

  • In what areas can we set ourselves apart from competitors most dramatically?
  • Where do we have opportunities to create the greatest impact for our clients?
  • What will be the biggest factors determining whether we flourish or not as an organization?
  • How could we diversify what we do as an organization?

The small groups would rotate through two posters each, spending five minutes generating ideas for the strategic thinking questions. That’s ten minutes down.

On the third round, the group arriving at a poster would multi-vote on the most important idea on the poster and re-describe it (if necessary) in a few words. There’s another eight minutes or so; we’re a third of the way done, timewise.

The fourth group at a poster would shift to a separate easel sheet featuring a line with an odd number of points on it. In the middle, they would describe (in a few words), the organization’s current position on that dimension. To the far left, they would describe an attractive, market-viable position, albeit one simpler, more direct, more streamlined, or one easier for the organization to target.

On the far right, they would describe a dramatically bigger, more aspirational, grander, or more sweeping position the organization could target. Again, the position has to be possible and viable for the organization, although it might take years to reach. In between, they would describe where one or two other competitors or industry players are, ideally one on each side of where the organization is right now. Since I’m GENEROUS about time, they would have fifteen minutes to create these few descriptions.

At this point, we’ve already used nearly all the original time. Taking advantage of the multi-day session and using our online collaboration platform, however, they would return the next morning to complete the work. They’d have a sheet with each of the scales and the various positions. The strategic dimensions and scales would be ready in our online collaboration platform. Participants can then provide input online regarding where the organization is now and where it should be in a few years.

What are the downsides?

The total time on the strategic thinking exercise would likely be 1.5 to 2 times longer. It will be spaced over multiple days. The options they consider aren’t likely to be as strategically neutral as in the original approach. We also risk getting into the weeds and spending time on areas where the CEO doesn’t want to focus.

In answer to the concerns, however, this particular group will gain a stronger sense of starting from scratch than they might have using our tested approach.

Thanks for tolerating a Brainzooming longer article today. In case you hadn’t guessed, this is written for my client as a potential alternative to consider. We’ll know tomorrow which way they decided to go! – Mike Brown

 

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  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
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  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

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When is the right time for brainstorming in strategic planning, or really any other type of planning for that matter?

The short answer?

Brainstorming CAN make sense throughout a strategic planning process. It’s not isolated to one specific time where it makes sense.

And the longer answer?

The Right Time for Brainstorming in Strategic Planning

Multi-Thinkers

The way we look at it, brainstorming – or whatever you want to call trying come up with new ideas – is typically, give or take, the third step in any phase of a strategic planning process. We apply that approach no matter whether we’re clarifying strategy, determining objectives, developing the strategy plan, or beginning implementation.

The first step in any of these strategic planning phases is asking: What do we know about what we are trying to solve?

Answers to that question routinely include recapping information about strategic priorities, clarifying goals, prioritizing specific opportunities, identifying implementation steps, or various other direction-setting information.

The second step is asking: What gaps exist where we need new ideas?

Answering this question will suggest specific opportunities where brainstorming can create the greatest impact. If you need new ideas about how to approach strategic opportunities and challenges, a collaborative workshop to imagine a variety of possibilities can be very productive.

when-is-brainstorming

If the gaps pertain to unknown facts and information, brainstorming won’t be productive. You can’t brainstorm facts and information. That’s when it’s time to direct your energy toward fact gathering, analysis, and generating insights. Once that’s done, you’ve cycled back to where it is the right time for brainstorming in strategic planning.

See, we told you that would be the longer answer! – Mike Brown

 

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Create Improved Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategy and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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Don’t automatically presume the sole enabler behind an innovation strategy is generating new thinking and innovative ideas. That’s a significant part of the innovation strategy process, but it’s just one part. There’s critical work to do before AND after generating new ideas to turn intriguing ideas into true innovation.

As an example, we’ve been scoping a number of innovation initiatives for a client. Each situation came to us as an innovation strategy challenge. Once we dug into each one, however, the real issues were quite varied, and rarely started with a lack of new ideas.

Innovation-Strategy

One initiative was already well conceptualized with little room to tweak the vision. The innovation strategy challenge was detailing the potential implementation steps for the vision in a comprehensive, integrated way.

Another initiative involved addressing how a functional area could participate in transforming the business. While that was part of the core opportunity, the first steps involved identifying significant core business issues demanding new strategies. Additionally, there was a need to identify ways other businesses in comparable and far-flung industries are using this area to transform themselves.

A third initiative tied to new product development depended initially on establishing a more robust understanding of customer needs. And while new products could be one innovation, there are opportunities for important innovation strategy advances in value propositions, support services, and new technology.

A fourth initiative arrived already labeled as needing a quick in-person innovation session. It turned out, however, to be sorely in need of a deep analytical and benchmarking effort before beginning to imagine an innovation strategy to tackles a challenging corporate BHAG.

See what we mean?

All “innovation” initiatives. Each with markedly different innovation strategy barriers or critical enablers to realize its full potential.

There are many potential challenges to a successful innovation strategy beyond needing more new ideas. That’s why one of our core innovation workshops, “Taking the No Out of Business Innovation,” tackles ways around ten potential organizational innovation strategy barriers.

So the next time somebody says, “We need more innovation,” ask, “What EXACTLY do you think that means?”

And then contact us to get to the bottom of solving the innovation strategy challenge successfully!  – Mike Brown

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Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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There are a couple of different ways to apply structure to strategic planning exercises:

  1. You can enforce using templates and forms participants have to complete so their answers are uniformed and structured.
  2. You can provide people with strategic thinking exercises, creative thinking tools, strategy questions, and ways to collaborate with one another, using structure to help imagine better strategies.

Many consultants focus only on the first type of structure.

Templates make it easy to compile the work participants are left to their own devices to figure out and complete. The problem is many (most? nearly all?) people who aren’t full-time strategic planning fanatics don’t have efficient and effective ways to imagine the answers that fit in strategic planning templates. What’s worse is participants often resort to completing templates individually. This means there is no opportunity for productive collaboration to devise the plan.

Productive Structure for Strategic Planning Exercises

Structure

The second type of structure, however, is all about helping people use what they know and understand about an organization and its audiences to strategically, creatively, and efficiently develop smart business strategies. And not only does it help them develop the current strategy, using productive strategic planning exercises helps them learn to be more effective in future strategic planning.

After this strategic collaboration, a full-time strategic planner (i.e., such as The Brainzooming Group) can take the output from great strategic thinking exercises and shape it into templates.

If you’ve been through too many strategic planning exercises that feel like the first example of structure, we need to talk. The Brainzooming Group uses the second type of productive structure to create a lively, positive, and collaborative strategic planning process. It will pay dividends for your organization now and for years afterward. – Mike Brown

 

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Create Improved Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategy and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Who could find a connection between the “Hokey Pokey” and internal branding ideas? None other than B2B marketing expert Randall Rozin! Randall, who leads the Global Brand Management function within Dow Corning Corporation, serves as the company’s key strategist on brand creation, internal branding, and strategy alignment. Besides all his corporate accomplishments, Randall is always a popular guest author on the Brainzooming blog.  

How the “Hokey Pokey” Suggests Strong Internal Branding Ideas by Randall Rozin

Randall-Rozin2As kids it was fun, if not somewhat embarrassing, to do the Hokey Pokey at school, at the skating rink or at parties.  The Hokey Pokey (song and dance) goes by many names around the world, but has a common format in that you first create a circle of friends. When the song starts, you begin by putting your right hand in, putting your right hand out, putting your right hand back in and shaking it all about, after which you ‘do the hokey pokey by turning yourself about’.  From there you then proceed with the left hand, each foot in turn, your head, backside and finally your ‘whole self’.

Now take the common Hokey Pokey as a simple metaphor to suggest internal branding ideas.  A stretch perhaps, but let’s have some fun with it as at the end of the day the goal of both the Hokey Pokey and Internal Branding are the same.  We want an employee to put his or her “whole self in” to the brand. This concept applies for both business to business firms as well as business to consumer companies.

7 Internal Branding Ideas from the “Hokey Pokey”

Put your right hand in/out

As the internal branding dance begins, we start slowly with a simple hand to test the waters.  We put our right hand in do an audit of what we know about our brand and what we have been doing to communicate it to our employees.

Put your left hand in/out

With current situational knowledge in place, we put our other hand in to develop a strategy of where we want our brand to be in the future and outline a plan to get there.  Now the left hand knows what the right hand is doing and has a path forward.

Hokey-pokey-right-foot-inPut your right foot in/out

Next we have to get senior management alignment to our strategy and goals with active support for bringing the brand to life with and for employees.  Sometimes this involves a little footwork.

Put your left foot in/out

With visible support from management, we now begin to create awareness of what our brand means, what it stands for.  This involves putting feet on the street to inform all employees.

Put your head in/out

The head in this part of the dance, as with internal branding strategy, is properly timed.  In this phase we move beyond awareness to really helping employees understand what the brand means, why it is important and what role they, as individuals, play in delivering on the brand promises.

Put your backside in/out

With internal branding strategy you want hearts and minds.  We covered minds in the previous step; a way to the heart is by having some fun with your brand to help convey its message in a variety of ways.  In the Hokey Pokey, putting your backside in breaks down barriers by being a bit silly during the dance.  For your internal branding initiatives putting your backside in could include sharing stories, in fun ways, of on-brand behaviors as well as off-brand behaviors and how to correct them.

Put your whole self in

The ultimate aim of internal branding strategy is to have employees’ hearts, minds, bodies and souls committed to supporting your brand in service of your customers.  In essence, getting everyone to put their ‘whole self in’ and do so willingly as they can see the connection between what they do every day at work and why it matters and adds value to internal and external customers.

Enjoy both the hokey pokey and your internal branding ideas and remember to “turn yourself about” to have some fun with it cause “that’s what it’s all about.” – Randall Rozin

 

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As you think about your career strategy, how do you see yourself?

Are you bigger than your job, or is your job bigger than you are?

job-bigger-than-you

I had not really considered this career strategy question until the end-of-season speculation about which NFL coaches would be fired immediately after the regular football season’s final weekend. The discussions seemed sad, as if NFL coaches at poor-performing teams could do nothing but sit around and wait to be ushered out the door. In those situations, it seemed clear these coaches’ jobs were bigger than they are.

Tom Coughlin was one striking contrast among departing NFL coaches.

In his final press conference as coach of the New York Giants, Tom Coughlin demonstrated what it looks like when someone is bigger than the job. Coughlin “resigned” after fifteen years with the New York Giants, twelve of them as head coach. He led the team to two Super Bowl wins, and was on the coaching staff for another one.

Rather than playing back what Tom Coughlin had to say, you can read the transcript of his remarks.

I would encourage you, however, to watch the press conference video.

You will get a sense of someone who, while obviously devoting himself to his job, his organization, and his players, definitely realizes his job is not bigger than he is. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

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Something I’m trying to improve is being deliberate about what I agree to do that could end up distracting from what’s important. After consciously pursuing many new avenues the past few years, it is evident some very fundamental business capabilities aren’t receiving the attention they need. I’ve been thinking about what strategic thinking questions could help me stay more focused.

In the midst of that personal reflection, kick ass business person and cycle instructor, Kate Crockett, posted “2016 – The Year of No” on Facebook. Kate’s strategic thinking questions resonated with me, and I asked her for permission to share them here.

I suspect you will find them valuable as well. Here’s Kate!

2016 – The Year of No by Kate Crockett

I challenge you to make 2016 the YEAR OF NO.

Before you agree to anything, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I want to do this?

We all need to stop doing things we absolutely do not want to do or things that cause us stress and anxiety just because we feel it’s what others want us to do or it is perceived as the “right thing to do.” The right thing to do is to care for yourself so you can care for others when needed.

Will doing this make me feel satisfied?

kate-crockett

Kate Crockett and her daughter, Olivia

Would the person asking me to do this do the same for me if I asked?

We all need to stop bending over backwards and going out of our way for people who wouldn’t help us even if it weren’t out of their way.

Would you allow a friend to say “Yes” to whatever it is if you knew they didn’t want to do it or it caused them stress or emotional anxiety to do it?

Why would you treat a friend better than you treat yourself?

Is this time well spent?

We all need to learn to set our boundaries with those in our lives so that we aren’t the ones driven to stress and anxiety while the others in our lives skate around us caring very little that they’ve have put us in an inconvenient situation.

All of us are extremely talented, caring, generous, loving and amazing humans who allow those around us to exploit those admirable qualities to their advantage with little care for what it does to us. Spend your time this year on those who support your physical, emotional and mental well-being and lift you up. At the end of the day, it will make us less stressed and happier people for those that really matter to be around. – Kate Crockett

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