Play Business!–Creating a Strategy Spring Training

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. Men making millions of dollars a year, the best in the world, 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 months, I’ve visited with world-class companies including FedEx and Google 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.

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.

3.  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.

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. Make no mistake, this year you and your team will either get better or 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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