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Monday, 07 February 2011 09:34

Planning Your Strategy Workshop

Strategy WorkshopThe more effort you invest in planning your strategy workshop, the more likely it is that your workshop will be successful. Here are some questions you may like to ask yourself (or your team) prior to briefing your strategy consultant.



  • A full strategic plan we can give to our board of directors?

  • A common vision to which everyone is committed?

  • A vision or set of goals?

  • Specific action plans to achieve our goals and vision?

  • A few creative ideas regarding new opportunities for our business?


Content benefits result from doing comprehensive strategic analyses: of your stakeholders, the external environment, your industry, your competitors and your business and then creatively developing a focused and comprehensive vision. Content benefits could include:

  • A clear competitive advantage.

  • A clear common vision.

  • A clear focus on a few priorities (80/20 principle).

  • A framework within which future decisions can be made.

  • Clarification of the target markets within which we will and won’t operate.

  • Identification of new opportunities from changes in our external environment.

  • An identification of our core strengths. Knowing what makes us special.

  • Creation of new value added products and services we could be offering.

  • Creative, ‘out of the box’ thinking.

  • A change of mindset or paradigms.


Process benefits are the ‘people’ or ‘team’ benefits you can get by cleverly designing your workshop. For example the way you select delegates, mix smaller groups, encourage participation, work with group dynamics and design workshop activities could result in the following benefits:

  • Cross learning between people from different functions.

  • Synergies between different areas.

  • Break down ‘silo’s between different divisions or between your company
    and the parent company.

  • Building of teams. Reducing conflict.

  • Greater creative out of the box thinking? (The more diversity in your teams,
    and the more you mix teams, the greater the creativity.)

  • Positive energy. (This results from the energy of the participants, the style of the facilitator, and what is actually achieved during the workshop.)

  • Commitment. (The greater the participation during the workshop, the greater the ownership and commitment – and the easier the implementation!)


There are often issues within the organisation that have the potential to sabotage your strategy workshop. Examples include:

  • Inappropriate timing.

  • An impending merger or takeover.

  • Impending structural changes.

  • Impending retrenchments.

  • Stress, or conflict within the top team.

  • A key player who is about to resign from the company.

It is important to identify and deal with issues like these before you hold your workshop. Otherwise you will find that delegates will insist on using the time together (at your workshop) to debate these issues! This will take valuable time away from working on the goals you wanted to achieve. Should you urgently need to develop your strategic plan before you are able to deal with these issues, talk to your facilitator about them up front. Then together agree on new goals for the workshop which include solving some of these issues.


When is the best time to hold our workshop? Consider the following factors:

  • Deadlines – do you need to submit your strategic plan to the board by a certain date?

  • Choose a time when issues that could sabotage your workshop will have been dealt with.

  • Choose a time that helps strategic implementation. E.g. there should be no operational deadlines straight after the workshop, so you can begin implementing your strategy immediately. Similarly don’t do strategy just before a major holiday period.

  • The best consultants get booked up months in advance. So book ahead to ensure the availability of the consultant you want to work with.


If we were to have the most successful strategy workshop ever, what would make it so special? What are the success criteria for our workshop?


Think of the worst strategy workshops we’ve ever attended. What made them so unsuccessful? What should we do to ensure that our workshop is successful?


Your choice of delegates can affect both the group dynamics of the workshop, as well as the level of commitment to your final strategy. So consider carefully whom you choose to invite as delegates. (See How to select delegates for a strategic planning workshop.) for more information.


How should we group our delegates into teams to help us achieve the process benefits we want? (When in doubt go for diversity. But ensure this is something you discuss this with your facilitator.)


  • What criteria are important in choosing a venue for this workshop?

  • How should the room be arranged?

  • The process benefits you want should guide your choice of venue. E.g. If you are looking for participation and creative thinking choose a venue that:

    • Promotes a feeling of informal relaxation. The ideal venue is away from the office and has space for groups to work both indoors and outdoors. Ideally it should be in a 'natural' environment.

    • Good lighting. Natural light.

    • Good air conditioning – especially in summer!

    • 3-5 round or square tables for small group work – arranged casually.

    • No distractions.

    • Good service.

    • Food that suits your delegates’ dietary requirements. (In a cross cultural environment, this is more important to group dynamics than you can imagine!)


  • What requirements must our facilitator meet?

  • Who can best help you to achieve the content and process benefits you want to achieve?

  • There is a shortage of good strategy facilitators. So book them well in advance.


  • What information will the facilitator need to know about our business, to design an effective workshop?

  • What documents contain that information?

  • Who will be responsible for briefing our chosen facilitator?

  • Typically an external facilitator will need information about your company/industry and about the participants of the workshop.

Company information.

Background information from annual reports, pamphlets, web sites, marketing material or research helps the consultant to customize the workshop to suit your organization. Anything that provides answers to the following questions would be useful:

  • What industry are you in?

  • What products and services do you sell?

  • How do your customers use these products/services?

  • Who are your customers or target markets?

  • Who are your competitors?

  • How has/is the industry changing? What issues is your company or your industry facing right now?

  • What technology are you using now? How is it helping you achieve a competitive advantage?

  • What challenges/issues are you currently facing?

Information about the participants

  • Who will attend the workshop?

  • How many delegates will be attending?

  • What are the delegates expecting from the workshop?

  • What could affect the group dynamics at the workshop? E.g. describe any conflict that occurs between individuals or between different groups.

Contact Ruth Tearle at +27 –21 712 2154 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to facilitate customised workshops to meet your specific goals and requirements. Original article posted at

Published in Strategy

outsourceOutsourcing is not a new phenomenon, since the industrial revolution business has outsourced activities in order to concentrate on their core capabilities. Transport into store and delivery to customers is a good example of this. Few large businesses run their own fleet anymore preferring to utilize transport companies who specialize in distribution and have the critical mass and expertise to deliver goods in the most efficient and effective manner.

The word outsourcing however is relatively new and was created to describe the decision by businesses to find external suppliers to either perform their transactional processing or to provide their customer contact services. The supplier market for these services is relatively young with the first companies entering the market in the late 1990s.

Although the industry is still in its infancy transactional service and customer contact companies are developing expertise in their field and using state of the art technology to provide high levels of service at a lower cost than companies can do it in house.

No other outsourced industry has had artificial constraints imposed upon them so why would we consider placing artificial constraints on this new industry? The two arguments for imposing constraints usually relate to the levels of service being obtained from these new companies and the loss of jobs to overseas locations.

Preventing companies from outsourcing transactional processing or customer contact activities will not guarantee high standards of service. The service level provided to customers is set by the company and in the case of outsourced activities is underpinned by either contract or contract and service level agreement.

The best way to address inadequate service is to complain directly to the company and if dissatisfied change your brand. Artificially constraining a company from outsourcing is more likely to cause the company to become uncompetitive and force an increase in prices than an increase to service levels.

Some companies have chosen to move these activities to outsourced providers located overseas where arbitrage costs are lower and as a result local people are made redundant. Since the time of the industrial revolution jobs have been lost to more efficient or lower cost methods of producing the result and over time the population becomes retrained in more highly skilled fields.

Every day people are made redundant because of the introduction of new technology. Jobs in photographic film development have all but disappeared due to the introduction of digital cameras, should we recall all digital cameras and ban their sale because their use has caused people to be made redundant?

It is also worth noting that in the field of information technology there are companies in the USA who provide around the clock support and disaster recovery facilities for companies located all around the world. Should we prevent these companies from taking on foreign clients because people in those countries will be made redundant?

For employees working in the field of transactional processing or customer contact the new world of outsourcing actually opens up new opportunities for career advancement. Not all outsourced companies are located overseas. IBM and Accenture have well developed shared service centers that operate in the USA, Europe, Australia and other countries, they hold large contracts and see service as their product.

Under this model activities that were once considered back office are now the primary purpose. No longer do employees have to do their time before getting a 'real job' in sales or production and for those who enjoy customer service a long term career path is now available within these service organizations.

Outsourcing of customer contact and transactional processing activities is barely a decade old. As a strategy to remain competitive it is so far proving successful. Short term some job losses are experienced however in the longer term the employment market will adjust to these changes as it has done in the past. To place constraints on outsourcing will restrict companies' ability to operate competitively and will result in many more job losses than are being experienced now.
Suggested Reading: Smartsourcing: Driving Innovation and Growth Through Outsourcing


Published in Strategy

Business PLan

A business plan is an integral part of the success of every new business. It is essential if you require funding but even if you don't it will provide a valuable blueprint for you to follow to ensure your new business venture is a success.

Business plans generally follow a standard format. Before you can start to write your plan you will need to clarify your business idea and do the research necessary to complete the following sections.

Title Page

The title page is as simple as it sounds. Start with the words ìBusiness Plan forî and then add the name of the business. On a new line insert the years the plan covers and on a third line, ìPrepared byî and the name of the preparer.

Table of Contents

A table of contents should be included if your plan is longer than five pages.

Executive Summary

This is the most important section of your plan. Readers will read this first, then the financial section. They will only read the other sections if they want more detail. If your plan is less than six pages an executive summary is not required.

The executive summary should contain a summary of your business mission, the market you are targeting, your products or services, your income and profitability and your management team.

Although this is the first section of your business plan it is easiest to write it last as it summarises the rest of the content.

Mission Statement

Your mission statement identifies the purpose and goals of your business. In this section you should state your vision for your business and identify what you are selling, where your market is and why you will be successful.

Business Ownership and Address

Often overlooked by first time plan writers this section simply identifies the registered owner(s), address and contact details of the business.

Market Analysis

The market analysis section is critical to proving your business idea can be successful. It includes an assessment of the economy as it relates to your business, your target customers and the needs of those customers that will be met.

An assessment of your major competitors, their strengths and the size of the market you are entering must be included to prove that you understand the requirements to enter the market and compete successfully.

Finally you need to include a list and description of your main products and services and your planned marketing methods.

SWOT Analysis

Once the market and your place in it are understood you can compile an analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats relative to your competitors.


An overall summary of your main areas of focus can be followed by specific strategies for each core product. These strategies should be designed to minimise identified weaknesses and threats and take advantage of your strengths and opportunities.

Your pricing strategy should explain your pricing relative to your competition and how this strategy will operate to give you advantage.

Projected sales by product for each of the next three years should be shown and then further broken down to sales by month in the first twelve months. A graphical representation is a simple and effective way to present these projections.

Structure and Management Team

The ownership structure and management team of the business are essential information for investors. Investors fund people not business plans so they want to know who will be responsible for bringing the plan to life.

Very few sole traders have all the expertise required to cover every aspect of a new business. If you are lacking certain expertise, for example marketing expertise, ask a friend or business associate if they would be willing to act and be named as an adviser to your business.

Action Plan

Include your key actions for the next twelve months for each of your strategies. Use tables to illustrate the timing of actions across the twelve months and provide action statements specifying the cost, the responsible person and deadlines.

Marketing Plan

Describe your brand, the brand proposition and its personality. Outline your communications program for the next twelve months. Include paid advertising if it is to be used as well as activity to obtain free promotion.


Provide an income statement, cash flow, balance sheet and break even analysis for the next three years and a break down by month for the first twelve months. Outline the capital investment required, the purpose for which it will be used and either a repayment schedule or expected return on investment.

When you have completed these sections you can return to your executive summary to finalise your plan. While writing your plan there are some things you should keep in mind.


Keep your plan as concise as possible. Be sure to include all relevant and required information but most start up plans can be completed in less than twenty pages.

Be realistic; err on the side of conservatism. Put most of your emphasis on the first twelve months as it is critical you have a clear path forward to survive and achieve growth.

Choose your key activities wisely. You will not be able to do everything in the first year. Prioritise to achieve early results then build on these to achieve your ultimate vision in the future.

Assistance is available from industry associations and government bodies. The US Small Business Administration website is an excellent resource for new business owners.

Starting a new business can be an exhilarating experience but to take an idea from thought to reality requires careful planning and ultimately action. A well-written business plan will help you to do both.


Published in Entrepreneurship
Sunday, 19 September 2010 17:25

Improving Brand Recognition in TV Ads

Advertisers pay millions of dollars to air TV ads that, by some estimates, more than a third of viewers skip over with digital VCRs or by switching channels or tuning out altogether.

New research by HBS professor Thales S. Teixeira offers a simple, inexpensive solution to help marketers hold on to some of those consumer eyeballs.

In "Moment-to-Moment Optimal Branding in TV Commercials: Preventing Avoidance by Pulsing," forthcoming in Marketing Science, Teixeira and coauthors Michel Wedel of the University of Maryland and Rik Pieters of the Netherlands' Tilburg University use data that tracks the eye movements of nearly 2,000 participants over 31 commercials to show how various branding patterns of activity influence consumer "zapping," or ignoring, commercials.

Published in Marketing and Sales

Startegic AllianceThere are three types of strategic alliance; direct cooperation, joint ventures and minority investments. Every joint venture is always a strategic alliance but not all strategic alliances are joint ventures.

What is a strategic alliance?

Strategic alliances are agreements to operate collaboratively between otherwise arm’s length organizations to accomplish a strategic purpose. Alliances can be either equity or non-equity alliances but all are formed to achieve benefits for the organizations that would not be achieved by operating individually.

Published in Strategy
Thursday, 09 September 2010 08:00

The Basics of Strategic Management

StrategyStrategic management is the means by which a business plans for its long term future. It is a process which establishes what success will look like in three to five year's time, analyzes the current state of the business and puts in place a road map to move the company from where it is now to where it needs to be.

There are three stages in the strategic management process. Stage one involves analysis of the context in which the business operates. A future search is undertaken to understand likely and predicted changes in industry, governments and society which will impact on the company or its products. This is combined with a current state analysis of the business operations and its ability to adapt and grow to meet the future challenges.

Published in Strategy
Tuesday, 31 August 2010 14:54

The Basics of Conflict Management


When people come together it is inevitable that differences will arise. When the differences involve important issues for the individuals they can create conflict. The objective of conflict management is to resolve the conflict while balancing the needs of each party. When this is done well it is possible for the parties to have a better relationship than before the conflict arose.

Different people deal with conflict in different ways. Some people will choose to avoid the conflict, but it is not an ideal choice as it leaves the conflict unsettled and can lead to alienation, apathy or absenteeism on the part of the avoider.

Published in Leadership
Saturday, 10 April 2010 06:34

The Makeup of MBA's

Receiving an MBA is the goal of many business students, but they may not know exactly what is required to graduate with one of these business degrees.  Most MBA courses present students with a broad understanding of the business market as a whole, letting them see exactly how different parts of the market interact so that they can have a better grasp of business strategies.  Even specialized MBA programs will still present this information in various classes.

All MBA programs feature a heavy emphasis on leadership, business strategy, market flow, accounting practices, and communication.  Leadership classes teach about management techniques, policy creation, and the organization and running of businesses both large and small.  Business strategy teaches students about marketing, promotion, and business expansion...

Suggested Reading10-day MBA: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering the Skills Taught in Top Business Schools

Published in MBA Studies