Why Annual Strategic Sessions Can Be Detrimental to Startups and Small to Medium-Sized Businesses

I have been working with personal and corporate strategies for over 10 years, and in this discussion, I will outline the TOP 5 detrimental consequences I have observed:

  1. Information Overload:

Over the course of a year, a substantial amount of information accumulates. When preparing for an annual strategic session, it becomes challenging to gather and consider everything essential. Some information gets lost, or it's simply impossible to fit such a volume into the confines of a single one-day or even a three-day session.

2. Hidden Dissatisfactions: People always have dissatisfactions or grievances with ongoing processes. However, to honestly and openly discuss these concerns, one needs time and a confidential space – not a rushed process of jotting down remarks and improvement suggestions on sticky notes and slapping them on a wall. Such an approach fails to reveal the true picture and often results in the hasty disposal of initial, usually inconsequential, thoughts.

3. Oversized Ideas in Short Timeframes: Large ideas are presented for discussion, but there is often insufficient exploration of how these ideas align with the company's current spirit. On average, only 10% of ideas introduced during a strategic session are implemented. In other words, you spent 8 hours, but the actual value generated is just 48 minutes.

4. Lack of Understanding Regarding the Session's Necessity: I have conducted over 250 sessions and more than 1500 interviews in preparation for them. What I observe is that strategic sessions are often perceived as a bitter pill that needs to be swallowed to ensure peace for another year of work. This happens because people don't see tangible results from these sessions due to overly broad and often disjointed ideas.

5. Absence of a Habit of Open and Free Communication: To develop a strategy that anticipates unexpected challenges or seizes missed opportunities, conversations must be honest and open, often revealing uncomfortable truths that we'd rather avoid. When people only come together once a year for a discussion, there is no foundation for this kind of honesty and openness. The instinct to "stay silent to avoid making things worse" takes over.

In this approach, the conversion rate of implemented decisions increases to 80%, and the team eagerly anticipates these sessions to contribute to the company's development. I call this approach "Innovation Sessions."

An Innovation Session:

1. Regularity: Sessions are held once a month or every two months. With proper design, this allows people to develop a habit of sharing their thoughts and ideas openly and honestly. Participants become accustomed to being in a safe space together. Here, the facilitator's role is crucial in creating this safe and trustful environment.

2. Thematic Focus: Each session is dedicated to a specific aspect, such as clients or scalability. This allows for in-depth exploration of the topic, uncovering hidden obstacles and resources, and generating innovative solutions.

3. Controlled Information Flow: Only information related to the chosen theme is gathered for the session, preventing distractions and ensuring a focused discussion.

4. Honest and In-Depth Discussion: There's enough time to engage in meaningful conversations about the topic rather than hastily presenting random ideas. Clearing the clutter from a pile of sticky notes that nobody reads is avoided.

5. Implementation of Solutions, Not Just Idea Generation: Because these slow and deep innovation sessions surface genuinely important issues that concern participants, they are motivated to ensure these solutions are executed for their benefit.

6. Rapid Response: We receive an overwhelming amount of input too quickly. More frequent sessions help us stay in tune with market dynamics and respond promptly to external changes.

Conclusion: Annual strategic sessions can potentially harm a company by turning it into an inflexible machine. The art of small steps doesn't mean abandoning dreams of grandeur or avoiding occasional major strategic sessions. Instead, it's about building a more resilient and sustainable company that can respond to external changes more frequently than just once a year.

Such an interesting point! I didn't realise there was smth called Annual Strategic session, I feel like I have heard more of Quarterly Goals tracking and of course weekly/monthly all team standups so this is good to know.
Thanks for your response! Unfortunately, it is precisely the annual strategic sessions that many large companies sin with, and small and medium-sized businesses take their example from them. Consultants do not often understand the specifics of small companies, so they offer them the same product as corporations.There are also cases when the team does not see the benefit of such sessions or the direct impact on increasing profits. This is a mistake by the facilitator, which means the session design was not done correctly.
super useful to know! also interesting they bring in facilitators for it!