Strategic SnapShots: What REALLY Matters - Part 1 Critical Factors

Strategic SnapShots©: What REALLY Matters? Part 1: Critical Factors

In my previous article we identified that the true definition of strategy is “The essence of the business and how it thrives”

What does one do with that definition?

Focus on the fundamental core of the organization

In any activity we deem to be “strategic” we are focused on “the essence” – the fundamentals, the core or heart of the organization. So we start with the 20% of the issues that will deliver 80% of the desired strategic outcome. The Pareto principle.

How do we apply this strategic focus in practice?

A Strategic SnapShot© captures one aspect of the organization

I advocate something I call a “Strategic SnapShot©”. A strategic SnapShot© is a simple, quick-to-apply process that allows a team, typically the top team, to understand the strategic essence of one chosen aspect of their organization, and create a platform for analysis to develop an action plan that delivers the required improvement.

Every SnapShot© starts with a focus question

The first step in undertaking strategic analysis is to identify a “Focus Question” that the team will answer. Choose your focus question with care. The wrong question will give you the wrong answers.

Here are some examples of focus questions used by other organizations:

  • What are the Market Critical Success Factors for our premium product?
  • What are our Critical Concerns with regard to the needed production capacity expansion?
  • What are our Market Attractiveness Factors for our principal markets?
  • What are our Key Strengths?
  • What are our Critical Concerns with regard to customer satisfaction?

“What are our Critical Concerns…” is a good place to start

I like to start any workshop engagement with what I term “Critical Concerns”.  So, for example, “Critical Concerns with regard to the strategic direction of [organization name]”

The benefit of Critical Concerns is that it does not require any explanation to delegates, allowing them to focus first time round on learning the process. Also, for reasons I cannot really explain (other than it may be the way I facilitate), the net effect of a Critical Concerns process is a series of action-orientated critical factors that focus in on the essence of the organization and its current situation.  I have concluded that when people focus on Critical Concerns it happens that they focus on what is fundamentally required for the organization to thrive, producing a highly effective initial analysis.

Brainstorm your answers to the focus question

The second step in the process is to brainstorm everything your delegates can think of in answer to the focus question.  As with any brainstorming, there should be no debate or discussion; delegates simply articulate whatever comes to mind and a scribe types in what they say verbatim without editing or censoring.  So even comments made “in jest” get captured because sometimes the only way somebody feels safe articulating a difficult issue is in the form of a joke.

This process requires facilitation to keep things flowing and can easily run to 40 minutes and a hundred points with a team of between five and ten people. I like to have the Brainstorm results displayed on a projector or large screen so everyone can see what is being recorded. The goal is for everyone to feel that they have been heard and for even the difficult topics to be surfaced.  I may seed the Brainstorming from time to time by injecting comments based on what I have heard in the interviews I conduct prior to the workshop.

What IS a Critical Factor?

The next step is to determine the Critical Factors that cover the focus question.  I define Critical Factors by way of the following example:

To travel 800 miles by car from Chicago to New York, you will need:

  1. A car (own, rented, taxi, Uber)
  2. A driver
  3. Fuel/charged battery or money for fuel
  4. Car in working order (engine starts, tires, etc.)
  5. GPS, map or directions
  6. Experienced driver or good autopilot
  7. Nice, comfortable seats; air-conditioning, premium brand, etc.

Factors 1 to 5 are critical. If you do not have all of those in place you will simply not get from Chicago to New York.  Factors 6 and 7 are important but not necessary.

In my process I work with seven critical factors because I have found through years of experience that this is the optimum number in focusing attention on those elements that really are important. The weighting process allows us to filter the Critical Factors more specifically.

7 Critical Factors are synthesized from the brainstorm list

Having shared a slide with the above example I have delegates individually and privately list their seven Critical Factors. 

I then type those into my StratSnap© tool so that all contributions are listed separately starting with the sponsor. You can do this in a spreadsheet.

We then work collaboratively to cut and paste every delegate’s contribution into a single list of seven points which incorporate every contribution so that all delegates are heard. Headlines are then assigned to each factor and, where necessary, if any factor has negative language this is turned around to a positive action orientated statement.

A powerful and succinct view of the focus question

The seven Critical Factors provide a succinct and powerful view of the most important elements relative to the focus question. My experience is that delegates find the process synergistic and because no statement is discarded, everyone’s voice is heard.

In Part 2…

In Part 2 I will discuss the allocation of relative weights to the Critical Factors. I will explain how the weightings provide a powerful diagnostic of corporate issues and builds consensus around how best to “climb the mountain” to achieve the strategic objective.  In the session after that we will look at scoring performance on a basis of Historic, Current, Forecast and Objective scores and from that develop a weighted gap which then forms the basis of a structured Gap Analysis leading to a structured, prioritized Strategic Action Plan. See my free Webinar below for a detailed discussion of the entire process with examples.

The 7 Critical Components of a Strategic Plan

Download my checklist “The 7 Critical Components of a Strategic Plan”

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View my Webinar “Strategy: What IS it? HOW to develop actionable plans”

Webinar - Strategy: What is it? How to develop actionable plans

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