Spring Training for Business

Major League Baseball's annual spring training means the welcoming back of warmer weather, the smell of freshly mown grass and another year of the Chicago Cubs not winning the World Series. But WAIT! The Cubs are actually the favorites to win it all this year. Could this actually be the year of Cubaggedon? We'll have to wait and see.

Whether it's the Chicago Cubs or your hometown baseball team, every major league player, men making millions of dollars a year, the best in the world, will invest approximately six weeks to refresh on the basic skills of the game. When is the last time your team refreshed on the basics of business strategy? When is the last time your team had a strategy spring training?

In the past few years, I've had the honor of visiting with managers at world-class companies including FedEx, Google and Dell to share my perspectives on strategy and developing strategic thinking skills. A common theme I've found in great companies and outstanding leaders is their continual desire to raise their bar of excellence and build on their already strong strategy capabilities. As the snow melts and the trees begin to bloom, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce a strategy spring training to your team. A successful strategy spring training begins with three B's.

1. Basics
The reason Major League Baseball teams invest in Spring Training for their players is to refresh their skills and ensure they are the best they can be. To help your management team refresh on the basics, consider doing some G.O.S.T. practice. The acronym stands for the basic business planning terms goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. Goals and objectives are "what" you are trying to achieve while strategy and tactics are "how" you are going to achieve them. A goal is what "generally" you're trying to achieve, such as "#1 market share." The objective is what "specifically" you're trying to achieve, something like "attain a 43% market share for our service by the end of the third quarter in 2014."

Strategy is how "generally" you're going to achieve the goals and objectives, maybe something along the lines of "leverage relationships in top 5 accounts regionally with thought-leader experiential learning." The accompanying tactics, or how "specifically" you're going to achieve the goals could include brochures, training binders and web-based blended learning modules.

2. Barometer
A barometer is an instrument designed to measure pressure changes. Without a keen understanding of the changing pressure points in your business, it's impossible to determine if the actions you're taking are helping or hurting your cause. Do you have a good feel for the current context of your business? If you don't know what's happening around you, there's a good chance it's happening to you.

The tool I developed to help managers gauge the changing pressure points in their business is called the Contextual Radar. To create a Contextual Radar, draw a large circle on a piece of paper. Then draw one line from top to bottom and another from side-to-side so you have a cross in the circle. Label the upper right area "Market," the lower right area "Customers," the lower left area "Competitors," and the upper left area "Company." Next, fill in the four areas with the key happenings or issues occurring in each. The tool provides an excellent means of monitoring the highlights of the business and functions equally well as a way to dialogue on important issues with colleagues. Remember, diagnose the business before prescribing a strategy.

3. The Big Picture
One of the biggest gaps I've seen in organizations is between the strategic plan in a binder and people's day-to-day activities. Let's face it: most people simply don't use their strategic plans to drive daily activities. And if you're not using your plan to drive daily activities, you may as well not have one at all.

One way of bridging that gap is to see the big picture. We often hear strategy described as "THE BIG PICTURE," so why not draw that big picture? We can create a picture of our business on one page by using a tool called the Activity System Map. The Activity System Map identifies our 3-5 strategic themes, the areas where we put most of our resources to create differentiated value for customers and the activities or tactics that support them. First identify the three to five strategic themes, the focal areas for resource allocation that provide differentiated value. Draw large circles to represent these strategic themes. Then attach the tactics supporting these themes with small circles. Review and edit the tactics to ensure your big picture is as clear and compelling as possible.

If multi-millionaire Major League Baseball players invest six weeks to practice the basics, it seems a bit ridiculous that we don't even take one or two days a year to refresh our business strategy skills. Most businesses spend 100% of their time playing the game and 0% on practicing to get better. Does your team take a day a quarter to have a strategy spring training and refresh on the basics?

Make no mistake, this year you and your team will either get better or you'll get worse. And with the #1 cause of bankruptcy being bad strategy, getting worse takes the umpire's call, "You're Out!" to a whole new level.

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Rich is the founder and CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, and has helped more than 50,000 managers around the world to develop their strategic thinking capabilities. A former Chief Strategy Officer and professor of strategy, he brings both real-world experience and practical expertise to help groups build their strategy skills. Rich is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-selling author on strategy and has appeared on ABC, NBC and FOX TV. Sign-up to receive your free copy of Strategic Thinker by visiting www.strategyskills.com.