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  • Writer's picturePeter Franklin

Managing the Strategic Conversation – in the new world

Your strategy for the new world

You and your team are faced with a challenge.

On the one hand the world you need to engage with has changed. The behaviours and attitudes of customers have changed and are changing further as they adapt to an ever changing new normal. What worked before may well not work now and in the future. Is there a way for you to adapt and become one of the future winners or should you shut up shop and concentrate your energies elsewhere? The strategic conversation challenge You can no longer gather all your colleagues in a room to discuss the issue – to have the strategic conversation. You are all spread out – some working from home, some in the office observing new social distancing arrangements. Yes, you now use Zoom or some other web conferencing service. However, you are becoming increasingly aware of their limitations. Even though you can see participants the images are too many and too small to pick up on the non-verbal signals which alert you to issues in face to face meetings. In addition, when dealing with a highly uncertain future, as we face today, each participant in the conversation will have their own implicit set of assumptions they bring to the table. If these remain implicit the group will never be able to reach an agreement about what to do since they all have a different view of how they see the world working. For example, if you consider the restaurant sector: Some team members may believe you can raise prices 50% and still fill a reduced capacity restaurant, other may believe you can only raise prices by 10% at most without having an empty establishment. Some may believe that customers want a fully sanitised experience with screens and full PPE, others may believe that customers want the minimum disruption to previous experience possible. How can a team with such diverse starting points possibly come to a rational consensus decision. It can’t. So how do you have the strategic conversation in the team to find the best way forward? You can have a successful strategic conversation, and find the best solution for your business, by converting the implicit assumptions in individual minds to a view of the world shared by the team. This is because: · You remove the disagreements that stem from different implicit assumption sets · Everyone is working on the same problem definition – so mental energy is expended in the right area · The team can unite in a shared vision of the way forward – which they can then all play their part in implementing So how can you achieve this in the new online world? The answer is to create a visual representation of the business system you are grappling with – one that all participants buy into. To get there you first need to understand the implicit assumption sets in each of the participants’ mind. You do this through a 1 to 1 interview using a set of trigger questions to get each team member to put their assumptions and issues on the table. This should be done by an independent facilitator on an anonymous basis so that no-one feels threatened for expressing their views. You then need to make sense of all the issues raised by creating a diagram of the business world showing each issue and how it interrelates with others. You may have seen business system diagrams or influence diagrams. These are however not enough. To make real sense of the world you need to think through what value looks like – since that is what you are trying to find a way of maximising. You then need to think through how each of the issues impacts on value. The resultant diagram is called a “Value Map”. You then play back the map to the team and let them challenge it. Given it is built out of their answers to the trigger questions you will find that challenge is minimal because they see the picture as originating from them. You then ask the question – if this is how the new world works – what are our options. You then discuss them and arrive at a robust and sustainable view of the best strategy for moving forward.

Doing this is not new! I have been creating value maps since the late 80’s – albeit for face to face team discussion. What is interesting is that taking the process on-line makes it much more efficient. For example, I used to carry out interviews face to face with an audio recorder, then transcribe the interviews and get them checked by the interviewee. In an online interview the transcript is visible real time on screen for correction immediately. In the beginning the diagram was built up piece by piece on a metal whiteboard or walls using large magnetic hexagons in the former case or large hexagonal post-it notes in the latter case. What people said about each element of the diagram would be fed back using PowerPoint projected on a large screen. In the online world the software is now available to show both the build of the picture and the accompanying quotes in a captivating video. And the feedback materials can now be produced in a fraction of the time it used to take. In the old world all participants would be gathered in a room and asked by the team leader to agree with final version by physically raising their hands. In today’s world we have electronic hands. The whole process can be effectively and efficiently managed through Zoom or its equivalents. If you would like to find out more please get in touch. I am always delighted to have a conversation on having good strategic conversations.

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