For leadership teams facing immediate concerns, it can be difficult to remain strategic. Carving out time for conversations about the trajectory and goals of a business is always important. Still, achieving a balance between long- and short-term demands can be challenging for senior executives who don’t realize the pitfalls of meetings that conflate strategy and operations.
One of the most common factors that leads executives to ignore key strategic topics during meetings is their hesitation to discuss matters outside their area of expertise. Leaders also like to solve problems and check them off, and short-term items provide us with visible ways to mark progress. Finally, executives sometimes treat a strategic discussion the way they would a short-term issue. Instead of using a meeting to brainstorm and expand on ideas, they may grab the first idea that seems viable and solve for it, overlooking critical data in the process.
Fortunately, there are ways you can avoid these traps as you plan your own strategic meeting. Consider the following tips:
1. Design a learning environment: People will be much less likely to derail a strategic conversation if they feel more confident in their own ability to participate. To facilitate this result, you can plan a series of learning sessions preceding the strategic meetings to educate your team and get everyone on the same page. Make sure to establish a level playing field by giving everyone permission to ask questions in the spirit of learning.
2. Detach operational meetings from strategic ones: When you blend short-term and long-term agenda items into one meeting, short-term issues will almost always win. You’ll convince yourself that the short-term problem must be dealt with right away. Schedule separate meetings for operational and strategic topics.
3. Explore strategic issues from multiple angles: Issues that need to be addressed over the long term benefit from exploration before solution. Before jumping in to solve strategic issues, explore them from multiple angles. When executive teams do this, they are often surprised by how differently each person on the team has interpreted the challenge they face. Deliberately look for approaches to generate the right dialogue that are different from short-term problem-solving. This might involve using different brainstorming techniques; channeling critics’ and competitors’ thoughts; or creating a slower, more deliberate dialogue process that involves all participants.
4. Declare your intention and go: Finally, if you’re serious about shifting the conversation from the mundane to the strategic, declare your intention explicitly at the start of your meeting, and hold people to it. As the most senior leader, it’s your job to kick-start the discussion and keep it on track.
Day-to-day issues eat strategy for breakfast. Fortify your intentions to operate strategically by understanding the common temptations that will veer you off course and by applying the appropriate antidote.