The senior executives of an organization I’ve consulted with for many years convene every two years to update their corporate strategic plan. Unlike so many strategic plans – which are cobbled together just to comply with fashion or some requirement and then are promptly shelved – this organization actually uses strategic priorities to discipline its decisions about portfolio management, customer service, and corporate branding.
The executive group meets for an intense, two-day retreat. Nothing is left under the table. The group discusses corporate philosophy; financial performance; customer demographics; the economic, political, and regulatory landscape; internal organizational structure; day-to-day business practices; even conflicts and confusions among the executives themselves. It is always a remarkably forthright dialog and debate. And invariably it results in entirely fresh ideas and initiatives when they’re needed or a spirited recommitment to the company’s existing trajectory when it seems prudent and smart.
The unvarnished give-and-take is made possible by the number of people in the room. There are eight executives and myself as the facilitator. But what’s unusual is that individual executives have come and gone over the years, yet the retreat “ethos” doesn’t change. The tradition of constructive candor holds sway over the individuals who participate, no matter who they are or where they’ve come from.
This year, for the first time in a decade, the organization has a new Chief Executive Officer. In fact, he joined the company just one month before the scheduled retreat. One of his first acts was to declare that the retreat be attended, not only by his direct reports, but by their direct reports. Suddenly the number of participants went from eight to 26!
I’ve just returned from the meeting. I saw first-hand the impact of this change on the conversation. I also heard what an entire staff was whispering about their new leader and his first big decision. Now if you’ve read The Invisible Spotlight, and if you’ve been following this blog, you should be able to take some educated guesses yourselves about what I heard and saw.
Why don’t you give it a try? Drop us a line. Take some guesses. How do you think this expanded management team reacted? How did this retreat compare to prior ones? We’ll gather your thoughts, post them here, and compare them to what actually went down.