Hi guys,

I need a quick and efficient to manage through a management session with top 20 managers of our company. We want to define our forward strategy better and this is the first time we have done this. Any suggestions?

Mark's picture
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Your question reminds me of the Philosophy final exam question: "Define the universe. Be specific. Give two examples." :D

Leading a strategy process for a company that has 20 top level managers is one of the hardest, most time consuming things I've ever done. It's complex, delicate, and enormously dependent upon the relationships between the managers and the business and industry you're in. I would argue that if you have to ask us about this, a pause in the planning is in order. The big danger is that a clean, understandable process will imply that the resulting insights will create market value, and that's just not so, even though a bad process will surely produce poor results.

There are thousands of books on this subject. THOUSANDS. If you have time, read Michael Porter. If you only have time for one book, the HBS Essentials book "Strategy" will be a good basic primer. Ask lots of questions about Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT).

And: if you are reading just one book and this post, before you do, prick your thumbs...because something wicked this way comes.


Anonymous's picture

Facilitating a forum of 20 managers on this topic could take weeks. One of our company's first attempts at it we took a three day offsite and simply tried to answer these questions:

1- SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) - we broke the big group into four smaller teams and assigned on the four to each. Then each team had to present their findings to the rest of the group, answer questions, modify, and try to come to a consenus. This will take all day.

2- Risks/Opportunities --- Long Term/Short Term - Again four teams (different groups than for SWOT to get greater cross contamination) - These should be specific not general and expressed in as few a words as possible

3- Competitive Analysis - SWOT for each of our top three or four competitors - The more you understand about the sandbox the better you can play.

4- Competitor Driving Force - What drives each of our competitors? Understanding this will tell you how they, as a company, will react given a set of circumstances. Are they capacity driven? Low cost provider? Innovator? This will be the hardest for most of your managers who will think this is sales/marketing work exclusively - so be sure the S/M people are spread out among the groups.

5- Lastly - What is our driving force? What makes us tick? This should be the template against which you test every decision. In our case we had a room full (20-25) and argued for over 4 HOURS about the result. The initial result is likley to look like a run-on sentence from Hemmingway. After you reach that point try to get the group to reduce it to that which really matters. You should be able to define your company driving force in 6 to 8 words. A tough task, but one from which everyone will benefit.

The above five items are but the beginning of strategic planning and will likely take at least 3 hard days. Follow up meetings can then begin to plan particular actions

Plan to bolster our weaknesses.
Plan to further entrench our strengths.
Plan to exploit our opportunities.
Plan to proact to our threats.
Plan to attack our competitors strengths (not weaknesses - you want to fix the competitors?)
Plan to minimize our risks.
Plan to communicate our driving force and make it a part of the company culture.

A great reference is "The Strategist CEO" by Michel Robert. I am sure you can find it on

Good luck


bflynn's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]There are thousands of books on this subject. THOUSANDS. If you have time, read Michael Porter. [/quote]

I'll second the recommendation for Michael Porter - he is one of the founders of strategic thinking. Look for information about his five forces model (Buyer, Supplier, Competition, New Entrants and Substitutes) in addition to the more widely known SWOT analysis.

If you need it, let me know and I'll look up a couple of HBR articles to recommend. You should be able to find those at a good library.

Craig_Martin's picture

I could not agree you with you more Mark, on your recommendation for Michael Porter:

A MUST READ is Competitive Advantage and Competitive Strategy :D Having read his work, twice over it will alter the way you think forever :!: Forget the examples he uses from *1970 to 1990) * Pay attention to his framework and logic that can be matched to most business situations.

You will find that there are hundreds of books out there that cover this subject that are a mere spin off from Michael Porters original work. Too many me too books! These books fail, simply and miserably :!:

Go back to the original source!! These books are available from Amazon at approximately £11.99 each!!

As someone who has been through academia and the propaganda of it, and if you work in Marketing, these books are of true value.

For me, once I understood how competitive strategy fits with marketing, then be prepared to deploy strategy that adds value and alignment to corporate growth.

You will now understand why marketing fails to add value to CEO agenda and where it fits on the value chain.

regas14's picture
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Having read articles and other materials drawn from Porter's work (admittedly I need to allocate time to a complete reading) I am familiar with many of the concepts that he puts forth.

In reading Craig's question I wondered whether this was really a matter of developing strategy or more a meeting to discover the connectedness and alignment of many strategies into the overall corporate objectives.

I have been asked to present a couple of strategies I have worked on with a couple of my colleagues to a meeting of regional GMs, VPs and the Executive team. In thinking about framing this presentation, my mind went back to a book I read, [u]Strategy Maps[/u] by Kaplan & Norton.

Does anyone who has read this have thoughts on this as a framework for presenting the impact of strategic initiatives/programs?

Mark's picture
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I think Strategy Maps are a great tool, and I could certainly see them being of value here.

Often, in my role, I am constrained by lack of a complete understanding of the organization and its culture. I couldn't recommend strategy maps broadly - to truly use them, one is asking for a fundamental shift in how the organization uses data and pictures its environment. This is not trivial.

WHENEVER one talks about strategy, treading lightly is called for. There is no process that will make strategy work - Porter is no better or worse for any org whose leadership isn't committed to executing after the fun of deciding wears off.

It's certainly worth a look.


IanPratt's picture

Hi, if you are starting out in strategy you will need to have access to good information. You will need to understand the Macro, Industry and external environments before you make any strategic decisions.

Here are some links that may help you to get started

Detailed Porters Five forces Guide


Strategic Planning Guide


I hope this helps

There is also a good link for basic strategic planning, however I cannot find it at the moment

Have fun

mdbaldwin11's picture

First: don't try to do a complete strategic plan, or even a total review of an existing strategic plan over a weekend! Too much to do and too little time to do it right!
Second: Employ the right outside facilitator. Look for consultants that do nothing but lead strategic planning. Those who do it part time, or outside of tax season simply don't lead enough sessions to know the traps and pitfalls that are so easily fallen into. Experience counts, and CSSP leads more strategic planning sessions in a year than most people do in a life time.
Third: Read: Simplified Strategic Planning - A No-Nonsense Guide for Busy People Who Want Results Fast! by Robert W Bradford and J Peter Duncan. You may get this on Amazon or through the website for the Center For Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.:
This will help you focus on the core elements of strategic planning in a well organized, logical and time-effective process. Together with one of the consultants from CSSP, you will get a much better result than trying it yourselves.