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Strategy Review Meetings – Reviewing One Objective

Posted June 1, 2011 10:40 AM by Ted Jackson

I have been asked about strategy review meetings on a more frequent basis. The most recent one was "Tell me about the best strategy review meeting you have seen. Why was it so good?" It got me thinking that there are multiple ways to conduct a strategy review meeting: Review objectives that are off track, review everything, review by theme, and review just one objective. In this blog, I'll focus on reviewing just one objective.

Reviewing one objective is counter-intuitive to students of the Balanced Scorecard and the Strategy Review process. I'll be honest, I was skeptical of it until I saw it in action, and then I facilitated a meeting of one objective in a scorecard and it went really well. So first let's define what I'm talking about. Strategy review meetings are meetings where the leadership team of an organization focuses on strategy, not operations. Most organizations now, thanks to Drs. Norton and Kaplan, think about strategy in terms of a scorecard. It does not have to be a text book Balanced Scorecard, but most strategies have objectives, measures, and initiatives.

If your organization does not have objectives, measures, and initiatives, I'm sure it has goals, strategies, KPIs, or some combination of all of these terms. When thinking about goals or objectives, an organization may have four or five key goals, or they may have 15-25 objectives. Either way, there are measures or KPIs (key performance indicators) supporting these objectives and maybe even some key initiatives or projects as well. All of these items working together make up a scorecard, and if they are balanced across perspectives like financial, customer, internal, and learning and growth, it might even be a Balanced Scorecard. In my previous blog posts on this topic, I've focused on reviewing several or all of the objectives in each meeting. In this post, I'll focus on how to review just one of them.

Reviewing one objective is counter-intuitive because strategy involves all of the objectives and the objectives are inter-related in a cause and effect manner. So, how could it work to just review one objective? The first time I heard of this, it was related to the CompStat meetings that Bill Bratton would have in the NYC police force. These were twice a week operational meetings. Well, CompStat evolved to CityStat and even SchoolStat. I witnessed a school district using the SchoolStat process to have meetings every three weeks on strategic topics.

So how did it work? First, one department was put on the spot. Measures about their performance were reviewed. The department head had to explain why results were the way they were, and the district had to come up with a plan to improve. The key question from the superintendent was "How can we support you?" The supportive nature of the meetings allowed for strong discussions of the issues with real accountability, but it also pushed for support, not punishment. Of course if you did not ask for support and your performance did not improve, there were consequences.

So I tried a similar approach with a school district. We focused on one objective: "creating highly effective school leaders." The nice thing was that this objective involved many departments: finance, HR, teaching and learning, and others. The discussion got everyone on the same page and identified several issues of needed coordination and development. The team stayed focused for the 2-hour meeting, and we came up with a nice list of action items, with accountability.

The Challenges

There are several challenges to making this work. The first is that if you have a lot of objectives, you may not be able to review them all on a regular basis. The second is that if your objectives are written to support a single department, then many people on the leadership team may tune out of the conversation. The third is that you may not see the cross connections between this objective and others on your strategy map.

Keys to Success

I would suggest that there are a few necessary ingredients to make these meetings successful.

  • Quick and Frequent Meetings – your meetings should take place monthly or even more frequently in order to review as much of your strategy on a regular basis as possible. If you have 12 objectives and you cannot review them each year, this method is not for you. The meetings should also be limited to 2 hours if they are going to be held more than once a month.
  • Broad Objectives – Objectives should be written in a way to represent the strategy, not the departments. Multiple departments should be able to contribute to each objective.
  • Agenda – Keeping to an agenda is critical. You need 15 minutes to discuss the follow up from the last objective and 15 minutes at the end to ensure you captured the action items and looked at how this objective relates to others. That does not give much time for the objective review. Everyone needs to be prepared in advance for the discussion.
  • Leadership – A strong decisive leader is critical for this type of review meeting. Rehashing old issues will not work. Pushing and driving for solutions works well, and holding people accountable is critical.

These meetings are not for the meek, but if you do go this route, be sure to prepare extensively for the first few and be patient. It may take a few meetings to get it right. I have also seen this type of meeting be combined with a quarterly or semi-annual review of everything so that the leadership team steps back and sees the big picture on occasion.

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