Managing With Strategic Priorities

Planning at a startup, like most things, is hard. Conditions are rapidly changing and the amount of real information that you have is smaller than in larger more established companies. One tool to use to help in planning is the creation of strategic priorities. It is kinda like a big company three year plan. But due to the rate of change and unknowns startup strategic priorities need to be set about every six months.

Not sure if Charles Brewer or Mike McQuary came up with this strategic priority scheme. Perhaps they came up with it together. All I know is that it works. Here it is listicle style. 

1. Assemble the team off site.
You need to gather up the senior team and get them off site for a day or so to focus. Depending on the stage of the company this could include board members, investors, advisors, co-founders, or senior management. Plan on a day and a half. You need some time to think about things overnight.

2. State of the company address.
The girl or guy in change opens the meeting with the state of the company and the purpose of the meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to come up with a set of three to five overarching objectives for the company to meet over the course of the next six months. It's a team effort, the guy and the girl should not get too deep into the below at this stage. It would taint the outcome.

3. Review past strategic priorities.
If this is not your first time at the rodeo, doing a post-mortem on the previous set of strategic priorities is a must. Grade the results just like in school. A – F. Talk about the why. There are both good and not good reasons for not achieving an objective. Know which type is at work. If it is a not good type discuss how to improve the cause of failure going forward. Have a scribe to capture this and all other discussions at the off site.

4. Macro environment discussion.
Have a discussion about the big environmental factors potentially effecting your business. The economy, politics, change/potential change in government regulations, the financial markets, other technology areas to name a few. These are not really things that the company can control but discussing what everyone is thinking about concerning the wider landscape helps to provide some perspective as the team starts drilling down. 

5. SWOT analysis.
Have a SWOT analysis discussion. Or if you prefer a Porter five forces analysis discussion. Once you do this, combined with steps 2 through 4 above it is time to determine the strategic priorities.

6. Strategic priority selection.
Have everyone present the three things that they feel the company needs to focus on during the next six months. By the second or third person themes will start to emerge. Combine them into some smaller number. Have the team debate what is really the most important areas for the company to operationally focus on during the next six months. Pick five give or take one or two. Have no more than seven. For each strategic priority appoint an individual at the meeting that is accountable for its delivery. More often than not strategic priorities are focused on customer experience, product development, and revenue generation.

7. Set strategic priority measurement criteria.
The last thing before getting back to the work of the day to day is setting measurement criteria for the strategic priorities selected. These metrics will be used in the weekly progress report and to grade the work toward the objectives at your next strategic priority meeting. The person directly responsible for delivery of the strategic objective should lead the discussion on the appropriate metrics.

8. Create drill down objectives for every employee.
Every employee needs to understand the strategic priorities and how their actions contribute to it every day. Explain the priorities to those (if any) that were not at the off site. Jointly come up with goals and measurements for each and every employee. Either one on one or in teams.

9. Discuss progress every week.
Every week as part of an internal team meeting set aside time to discuss progress against the strategic priorities and what adjustments need to be taken to meet the objectives. In my experience sharing this with the entire company during company meetings is very powerful. Having the person accountable for achieving the strategic priority provide these updates works best.

10. Rinse and repeat.
Managing via strategic priorities is a great tool. Do it once then rinse and repeat. Adjust as necessary for your company.