I’m a proponent of spreading strategic thinking broadly in a company and not readily handing off strategy development to outside parties exclusively. Yet I’ve been a part of many examples where an outside perspective helped move strategy development ahead much more quickly.
Here are several examples you may be facing where it’s good to get outside expertise:
Turning Talk Into a Plan
A small subsidiary’s three-person management team was told to get a plan in place to show corporate management the company’s direction. They had no planning process and only ten business days to deliver a comprehensive strategic plan. We brought in the Brainzooming process to develop an innovative strategic plan in one day. The output couldn’t be simply a bunch of ideas nor could it be only a rote plan with little strategic insight.
Structuring a day-long session using question-based exercises allowed the team to answer questions about the business, participate in exercises to stretch strategic perspectives on competition and opportunities, and come back the next morning to make people and timing decisions on a tight plan to share with the operating president.
As non-planners, they wouldn’t have been able to put together a coherent business plan in ten days, but they did understand their business and the general direction they needed to head. We combined their deep knowledge with exercises and facilitation allowing us to challenge and create a strategic flow from their answers. We delivered the best of both worlds – a structured plan reflecting their intent for the business with sound strategic logic and more innovation than they’d have ever brought to it alone. This experience demonstrated the clear benefit of the emerging Brainzooming process.
Stimulating a Management Team that Knows It All
We rolled into town to help a really experienced senior management team tackle annual planning. Because of their tenure and smarts, they knew the company inside-out. This knowledge rendered them ill-suited to solving a long-term growth challenge: as every idea was uttered, they “knew” why it wouldn’t work for the brand.
During the course of a day-long planning session, I created a new exercise on the fly based on a brand in a very different industry sharing the same fundamental characteristics of our client. I asked the group to suggest how this other company could address the same challenge they were facing. All of a sudden ideas started flowing non-stop. We were able to take the concepts and strategically apply them to their business.
Left on its own to think strategically, the management team would never have reached an alternative look at its business. An outside perspective, unburdened by excessive detail was critical to identifying an analogous situation, providing an entree for innovative strategic thinking and implementation.
Doing the Thinking for a Distracted Management Team
We had a pre-scheduled planning follow-up with a management team who, since our initial session, had been charged with exploring a major brand contraction. Unable to convince them their new assignment should be the focus for our session, we instead spent time addressing the status quo scenario. Unfortunately, the status quo wasn’t likely or compelling enough to command much of their attention and strategic creativity.
Frustrated by the lack of intensity while addressing the status quo, we wrapped the effort early. We told them we’d work on the status quo scenario, delivering 200 prioritized, fleshed out ideas and concepts within 3 days. Using several creativity techniques during the flight home, we generated really strong creative concepts for the status quo or, with some modification, for the alternative scenario also.
This was a great example of the importance of a balanced group in doing the best strategic thinking. The client’s management team had business experience and functional knowledge, but was sapped of any creative energy it ever had. Bringing in outside talent for a creative spark was needed to turn lackluster thinking into vibrant, implementable ideas.
Mike Brown is an award-winning marketer and strategist with extensive experience in research, strategy, branding, and sponsorship marketing. He’s a frequent keynote presenter on innovation and authors Brainzooming!