How your firm can benefit from an independent facilitator at a strategy day
In my previous article I talked about how, in any business with five or more people, the person given the responsibility to look after strategy (usually the Chief Executive), should be spending 20-30% of their time on it. I also talked about the importance of holding a strategy day, preferably ‘off site’, at least once a year. Below I discuss why it’s often best to have someone external facilitate that day.
Ultimately a business is all about its stakeholders, and a good strategy day is about ensuring that all stakeholders have a chance to share their views. Particularly in a smaller business, of say, 25 people or less, the owner will often lead the strategy day. But the owners who think they are open to being challenged are much more likely to be challenged by an independent person. This is about being open enough to realise that good ideas don’t necessarily only come from inside the business, they can also come externally from someone with knowledge, experience and a network – and that’s basically what an external force will bring you. A professional advisor may not have a shareholding in the business, but their success is a direct reflection of their clients’ success.
Someone external should also help to avoid most conflict, if they are properly facilitating and managing the day. Often you have a group of people from different areas of the business together in one room, for example some who have shares, and others who don’t. A facilitator has to align all of those voices and desires in the group, so that we all end up on the same page.
It’s ‘healthy’ for the owner of a business to recognise that bringing in an independent person helps to avoid the conflicts that can often arise by asking the ‘why’ questions and questions that the people who don’t have any shares in the business* invariably find difficult to ask. I’ve never had a problem asking questions – it’s often taken me to the edge of a precipice asking myself if I really want to be there, but that’s the role of an independent facilitator – we’re not afraid of taking you into unchartered territory, just to test the water.
We have a non-emotional attachment to the business because we’re not in it every day. We’re asking the awkward questions that an MD may not be able to ask his Sales Director in front of a crowd, whereas we can. It’s very important to be sensitive to the personalities around the table, so the facilitator has got to have a large amount of experience with people – we watch for the mavericks, we watch for the people that just clam up, we watch for the people that are clearly showing you by their body language that they’d love to say something but daren’t say it.
Part of a facilitator’s role is to create an atmosphere right from the outset that says, “There is nothing off limits here guys; as long as we respect each other and treat each other with the kind of respect you’d expect around a table, nothing is off limits, no question is stupid – just ask the questions.” It’s amazing what comes out of that day, and it can be a lot of fun!