Every organization has its own set of unique challenges, culture, and approach to driving towards their future. So, when people ask if they should be following a standard, prescriptive approach to a strategy review structure and agenda, our short answer is yes. But also, no.
We like to think of strategic planning as a structured process – and believe us when we say we have a structured process for nearly every component of planning, implementation, and reviews. But every organization is different, faces different challenges, advantages, and inherently has a different approach to planning and implementation that’s right-sized to fit their individual needs.
So today, we’re here to provide insight into the three core flavors of strategy reviews, their structure, the pros and cons of each, and provide you with a set of sample agendas you can take and implement with your team. Remember, there is no prescriptive fit. It requires your right-sizing the review structure to meet the needs of your plan and team.
It’s also important to remember these reviews assume you already have a monthly strategy review meeting in flow. Don’t forget the purpose of strategy reviews is 80/20 – 80% looking forward about what the focus and drive is for the next period, and 20% looking back at your plan and performance. 60-90 minutes is the name of the game.
Review Flavor #1: Reviewing the Whole Plan
The first and most common flavor of strategy reviews is a session structured to review the entire plan. This is the type of review we commonly cover in our newsletters and one we commonly use with our clients.
How it works
Simply put, this review covers your entire plan. Each goal champion is assigned and expected to spend 2-3 minutes reporting on the performance against goal, meaning where the goal currently is against the target you established. They’re also responsible for reporting the progress of their goals’ supporting initiatives.
Plans with fewer goals are the best fit here. You need to cover your entire plan in 60-90 minutes, so a plan with a lot of corporate-level goals might not fit within this period.
Pitfall: Going too long
The common pitfall of this review type is the reviews going too long. Be mindful about the clock during the sessions. If you feel the urge to speed your team through it, heed this warning – it’s not a great idea. In our experience, rushing through the review isn’t effective. If you find yourself consistently going over your allotted time, it may be time to consider an alternative flavor of review.
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Review Flavor #2: Picking a Theme of the Whole Plan
Another type of review flavor is one where you pick a theme to review in a single cycle. These reviews are solely based on a single theme or arm of your strategic plan. Each month, you’ll alternate themes across the plan. So, one month you’ll review your revenue/growth goals, the next you’ll review your operational theme, the next will be people and learning, and so on.
How it works
With this structure, you group your goals by themes (which naturally occurs in your plan) and review performance again goal and status of supporting initiatives within those themes. It’s similar to the structure of reviewing the whole plan in that each goal owner spends 2-3 minutes reporting the progress of their goal, but it just focuses on one key area per review.
Plans with many goals are the best fit here. This structure allows your team to review your whole plan in chunks without being rushed or omitting important details to your strategy.
**Top-tip** If you decide to leverage this review structure, set a schedule and stick to it. You need to be reviewing your entire plan, so alternate accordingly. Make sure each team member knows what they are responsible for during each review.
Pitfalls: Being inconsistent
The common pitfall with this structure is inconsistency in scheduling. If you don’t have a consistent process and schedule, you’ll confuse your team about what you are reviewing and what the organization-wide focus is. For example, if you are always reviewing financial performance, the message becomes the organization’s only focus is financials. Be consistent and alternate reviews.
Review Flavor #3: Reviewing Just Exceptions
Reviewing just exceptions is just as it states – reviewing the areas of the plans that are exceptions, or off target. This review structure allows your team narrow focus each meeting to review and focus on the areas of your plans that are critical.
How it works
In this structure, strategy leaders pre-identify the goals and initiatives needing to be reviewed, then ask the goal champions to provide insight on how to “go green” to get critically off-target goals back on track. Or, you can opt to spend the time aligning the group on how to “go green.”
This is a best fit for organizations that need to embed this strategic conversation into an existing staff meeting.
This is best for organizations wanting to have a strategic deep-dive conversation. Sometimes strategic planning is about solving your big organizational issues or exploring a new opportunity. It’s ok to layer in this strategy review type if you want to leverage review times to have a deep-dive into a special topic.
**Top-tip** Spend the first 5-10 minutes of this review reporting baseline metrics. This allows your team to have guiding information about where you are and will create more insightful conversation after.
Pitfalls: Not calling out what’s going well
This review type can fall into a cadence of not reviewing what’s going well in your plan. It’s just as important to know what’s working in your plan as it is to know what isn’t.
Everything Is Created Equal
We mentioned the Just Exceptions review type as an opportunity to deep dive into high priority items. Any approach we outlined can be used to review high priority or critical items. Just adjust the agenda to only highlight the items that are critical.
There Is No Right Answer. There Is Only Right Fit.
There is no perfect answer to the type of review that will work best for your organization. There is only the right fit, meaning you have to decide which is the right fit for your team, culture, and plan. Just remember to be fluid. If one review flavor doesn’t work, try another. It might take a few cycles to find the right fit and cadence, but when you do, you’ll see the difference it makes for your organization and team.