How to Have an Effective Strategic Discussion

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Playing To Win" by AG Lafley. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is a strategic discussion? How do you create the right environment for strategic discussions?

A strategic discussion is an interchange of ideas with the goal of gaining insights that will help a company progress towards its objectives. The best environment for strategic discussions is one that is interactive and includes very few people in the room.

Read on to learn more about how to conduct an effective strategic discussion.

How Can You Have an Effective Strategic Discussion?

A “healthy” work environment—good communication, happy employees—is necessary for strategic success. The CEO needs to be able to have an open and collaborative relationship with those working under him, and so on, all the way down to low-level managers and employees. To foster this collaboration and deftly respond to new challenges, discuss issues and review strategy in the open

The best way to do this is to have an open strategic discussion. This should be a regular event. Your strategic discussion should focus on simple strategic questions and don’t expect to come up with an entirely new strategy in one fell swoop—strategy is a continuous process of innovation, discovery, and review of existing systems. Here are a few suggestions to improve strategic discussions:

  • Don’t have too many people in the room—five is enough for a strategic meeting of this kind. If there are too many people involved in a meeting, it’s likely that most of them won’t be experts in the strategy that’s discussed.
  • Don’t let attendees bring too many materials—there’s usually no need for a pitch deck. Three pages of notes to share is the upper bounds of what’s acceptable. This way, meeting attendees can stay away from long presentations in favor of more open discussions with one another.
  • Talk about similar questions at each meeting:
    • Is the company winning? 
    • How do we know whether it’s winning? 
    • If it is, how do we extend our lead? 
    • If not, how do we find victory? 
    • What innovation looks promising? 
    • What are external and internal threats to success?
  • Spend a few hours discussing. 

If your company isn’t used to having an open strategic discussion, implementing one isn’t simple—people are taught to work in one way, and it’s not easy to start receiving and giving feedback in a different way. For instance, managers are often taught in meetings that they have to present plans and then defend them, not openly strategize with their team. However, if you emphasize this new, interactive meeting style over a period of months, your team will adjust and come to enjoy it. 

In the strategic discussion, people will start to think more about the strategy of the company. Before, when people had to defend their ideas with a detailed presentation, they were likely more concerned about presenting well and avoiding embarrassment than formulating strategy. With the pressure of presentation removed, people feel more confident about suggesting new strategies and contemplating potential strategies deeply. This new attitude spills out of formal meetings and into the course of the business day. 

A System for Communication

To avoid confusion, create a standard set of principles for every strategic discussion. For example, P&G created these principles to facilitate strategic discussions:

#1: The consumer is king.

In many ways, this is a restatement of the winning aspirations of the company. When making business decisions, every part of the company should focus first on consumers and their potential response to the decision at hand, whether it concerns innovation, branding, or investments. 

#2: Find big value and cost gaps.

Everything you offer to a consumer has a cost to you as well. You want the value to the consumer to be much bigger than the cost to you. You also want this gap to be bigger than all of your competitors’.  

#3: Win at the store and at home.

There are two “moments of truth” when the customer is going to make up their mind about a product—when the consumer first goes to the store and sees your product, and when the consumer first uses your product. A lot of companies focus on the second moment. But the first one is just as important, if not more so—your product needs to be on the best shelf, have the best packaging, and always be in stock. This is a task for every level of the company. 

P&G execs burn these messages into the brains of P&G employees at every level. They communicate them clearly, and these standards have led to success. 

Once this communication existed, it was relatively easy for P&G to figure out their priorities. They invested in innovation and consumer research, and they created a specific framework to build up their brands, among other new initiatives. These strategies came out of open discussions. 

A System for Measuring Progress

It’s difficult to continue to generate ideas for new strategies if you don’t have a clear sense of how much progress you’re making. Especially in a big company, it’s hard to see how the ideas from your strategic discussion are implemented and how they affect the overall bottom-line of the company. 

When you create a strategy, establish expected outcomes and a way to measure results against those outcomes. For example, your company could set a target of selling $1 million worth of shampoo in the first year after launch. This is much more effective than a vague goal of “increasing market share.” You should invest in and create measuring systems that deliver data on the success of your company’s strategies. Once the data comes in, the people who conceived those strategies can better understand where they went right and wrong and learn from that. 

Additionally, never use a single outcome to determine your success. Establish goals related to every department to ensure your company’s overarching strategies are well-rounded.

How to Have an Effective Strategic Discussion

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  • Why the cascade strategy will help you become victorious in your chosen field of play
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  • How to develop a system of decision-making for your company

Joseph Adebisi

Joseph has had a lifelong obsession with reading and acquiring new knowledge. He reads and writes for a living, and reads some more when he is supposedly taking a break from work. The first literature he read as a kid were Shakespeare's plays. Not surprisingly, he barely understood any of it. His favorite fiction authors are Tom Clancy, Ted Bell, and John Grisham. His preferred non-fiction genres are history, philosophy, business & economics, and instructional guides.

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