Strategy

STRATEGIC THINKING 101: CRAFT THE RIGHT QUESTION

In my last blog article, I indicated that planning to meet was the One Step Action Plan for Strategy. I hope you are working to add thinking time with your teams to the calendar this year! In that article I also talked about 2 types of thinking rhythms: strategic and tactical.

Today I want to walk you through an important design element for successful meetings: Asking the right questions.

Effective meetings have an essential common element: the right question is asked at the right time.

When people are asked the right question in a meeting they have to stop and think.  What is the key sign that people are thinking? They stop talking.

The pause in a meeting is a sign you are asking a thoughtful question and that the people around the table are actually doing the most productive thing then can do: they are thinking. [Note: a long pause can also mean that people are terribly confused. You can usually tell by looking around the table and seeing if people are silently looking at YOU with, “What do you mean?” questions written on their faces, or if they are looking off into the distance. Looking up and off into the distance usually means they are thinking about the question. Looking at you means they don’t understand your question.]

The biggest asset any company has is the thinking power of its people.

Do you intentionally prepare for a meeting to harness the thinking of your team?

When was the last time you sat down and prepared a set of questions to intentionally shape the direction of the thinking in your team meeting?

To have a meeting actually pause while people think requires the right questions.

Here are some tips for Crafting Effective Questions for your next meeting:

First, a guiding principle: Different thinking environments call for different questions. Is your thinking environment strategic or tactical? These environments require different types of questions to be effective.

Tactical time is a monthly, weekly and daily event. These meetings are more swift and action-execution driven. Strategic time is best pursued in annual, quarterly and regular one-on-one meetings.

The monthly meeting tethers the strategic and tactical thinking of an organization. 

Strategic Meeting Tip #1:

The questions to craft in strategic sessions are Why, Who, and What questions.

  • Why is it important that this business exist and persist?
  • Who do we serve?
  • What do they need?
  • What is our value proposition?

Strategic Meeting Tip #2:

Limit How, Where and When questions in strategy sessions. These questions are more tactical in nature.

If you pose them, keep How, Where and When questions focused on vision, values and strategy. There are, of course, exceptions. When How, Where and When questions relate to the core values of the organization they are strategically significant. (ex: How shall we reflect our values in this year’s Winning Moves? How does this goal meet the mission and fulfill the vision of the organization? Where are our customers moving in their needs and thinking?) For the most part, How, Where and When questions are more appropriate for Monthly, Weekly or Daily meetings.

Tactical Meeting Tip #1:

Asking the right outcome-oriented questions keeps these meetings moving. What, Where, When questions are the ones to ask. Be intentional with How questions.

Tactical Meeting Tip #2:

Do not pose Why questions. Move them to when you have the appropriate amount of time to address them like a Monthly or Quarterly meeting.

Tactical Meeting Tip #3:

Limit How questions. How is the question you are paying people to answer, and when posed frequently by a leader is a sign of micro-managing. Use How questions sparingly and with intention.

Next Steps to get your meetings revved up in 2017:

  • Craft an intentional set of questions to pose during each segment of the agenda.
  • Plan out your agenda well ahead of time. For annual and quarterly meetings send the agenda 48-72 hours ahead of time; for monthly meetings send the agenda 24 hours ahead.
  •  Include your questions with the agenda you send to your participants.

Warning: Mixing strategic thinking with tactical thinking gets you into the weeds quickly.

As you plan and review your agenda, think through which questions need to be asked as you move through the meeting, and then craft those questions with intention.

You will find that, with the right questions, you advance the thinking of the group and create a climate of purposeful, relevant and timely conversations. Happy Meeting! 

THE ONE STEP STRATEGIC PLAN

I have a leader who has come to me wanting a different outcome for his business. He is looking to have a transformational year. I asked for the date and time he meets with his team. He did not have an answer. He does not like meetings. He has gone so far as to delegate the weekly team meeting to an associate. He does not even attend. There are no monthly or annual meetings. There are only team meetings regarding projects. There is not one meeting that is focused on the business itself.

Until this changes, he will not realize the success he is looking for, and until he is willing to commit to that meeting, I suspect he will continue to be frustrated by getting the same results. Change is hard, but it is worth it: new habits deliver new results.

Most clients who come to us looking for support with their strategy need help with one thing: organizing the process. Strategic planning today requires that a leader overcome an internal obstacle: their own resistance.  

Here is my one step plan that will deliver any organization, business segment, or team to greater success in 2017:

Plan to meet.

I know. Meetings are not what you wanted to hear me call for right out of the gate. But it is essential.

Great leaders schedule their planning time a year in advance and prioritize and protect that time.

Here is what to schedule:

Meet annually for 2-3 days of vision-casting and strategic thinking.

Meet quarterly for a half or full day of strategic problem solving.  Begin by celebrating successes! This ensures outcome accountability and maintains momentum.

Senior leaders will have 2 meetings, 1 in which they lead their direct reports, and another in which they participate with their peers.

Meet monthly, for 90 minutes or a half day depending on leadership level. An important shift takes place here: a move from strategy to tactics.

This monthly meeting is a tactical problem-solving and obstacle-removing meeting. It is a time to gather all key decision makers in the room to cut through red tape quickly. Everyone who needs to be consulted is present, and decisions can be made quickly. This is a decision-making, permission-giving meeting that clears obstacles. Attempt to schedule these on the same day and move from front-lines to senior leaders, so that issues that need to reach the highest level decision maker can be resolved the same day.

Leaders will have 2 meetings, 1 they lead and one they present issues that need to be escalated to the next level of decision maker.

Meet weekly for status updates and next steps. Thinking a week out allows for communication and collaboration across segments to identify obstacles and resolve them. 30 to 60 minutes.

Meet daily for a stand-up huddle (yes, literally stand up!) with you team. Allow a minute per person. These meetings address issues that need to be addressed in the next 24 hours.

When you plan these meetings, put them on the calendar, and communicate the schedule and purpose of these meetings an important shift begins to take place on your team: people know what kind of thinking belongs in each meeting.

Daily and weekly meetings are for tactical execution. Monthly meetings are for tactical problem solving, strategic alignment and accountability.

Quarterly and annual meetings are for strategic thinking, and shape organizational focus, momentum and engagement.

This year, sit down with your calendar and map out your year. It isn’t sexy, but it works.

How you spend your time is the most critical element of your success. Planning to be strategic, relevant and successful means putting the dates and times you need to think, collaborate, plan, and communicate on the calendar before you begin. That way you know in advance you are planning for success.

If you find yourself frustrated with the status quo and wanting a different year in 2017 than you had last year, do something different.

Unsure where to begin?

Retain a skilled outside facilitator who can lead an offsite to begin to shape your organizational thinking rhythm. A good facilitator should be able to create a 2 day process that both maps out the thinking rhythm for the year and facilitates the strategic thinking process of the team.

In 2017: Plan to meet. Then be smart about what you do when you are together. It is that simple.