The 6 Levers for a Successful Strategy Council
1. Understand how strategy changes from startup to scale-up
Strategy should be a primary differentiating factor between a startup and a
scale-up. In a startup we hardly distinguish strategy as separate from other
activities. But in a scale-up, the strategy should be the key driver for growth.
Startup strategy is iterating on the founder vision until the team finds
product-market-fit. Scale-up strategy is preparing for competitive battle. Being
ready to win in the chosen arenas of war.
||Core competences, core purpose, core customer, brand promise, BHAG
||Can pivot any time
|Link with execution
||Input to quarterly priority-setting
||Brain of the founder
||“Strategic Thinking Council”
|Source of truth
||Founder thoughts and feedback
2. Separate strategic thinking from execution planning
When a venture moves from the startup phase to the scale-up phase, it is vital
to give strategy its own place:
Document the source of truth into a One-Page-Strategic-Plan
Separate strategic thinking activities from execution planning activities
Commit to the strategy for at least one quarter at a time, so that you can
set stable execution priorities.
Start debating strategy with the founder in a “Strategic Thinking Council”
3. Set up a separate Strategy Council
Jim Collins (Good to Great) recommends setting up a “Council” for strategic
thinking. This has to be a separate team from the executive team, with a
separate meeting. Though some executives should be members of both.
The Executive team contains the 7–9 top leaders of major functions and business
units. They represent all major cross-functional resources that must deliver on
quarterly priorities. The Executive team has collective decision authority.
The Strategic Thinking Council contains 4–6 executives. They are comfortable
debating long-term strategic choices. The Strategic Thinking Council has no
direct decision authority. It advises the CEO and the Executive Team. They share
both the consensus positions they reach and major differences of perspective.
4. Reflect strategic urgency in the right meeting rhythm
The Strategic Thinking Council should meet more often if it is urgent to update
I detect this urgency for clients with the Gazelles double strategy question:
“Can you state your firm’s strategy in simple terms? And is it leading to sustainable growth?”
If the team scores less than 6/10 on sustainable growth, I recommend to start
weekly or biweekly meetings. Companies already enjoying sustainable growth can
get by with a monthly rhythm.
5. Limit the agenda for each meeting to one pre-defined question
I recommend my clients focus every meeting on one deep dive. Beginning
Councils should start with one question of Jim Collins’ hedgehog concept:
What are you passionate about (Core Purpose)
What can you be the best in the world at (Brand Promise)
What drives your economic engine (Profit per X)
Every meeting should show much progress on the discussion on one of these. For a
next meeting, the Council can then choose to deepen the same answer even further
or to tackle one of the two other questions.
6. Be patient, a breakthrough is imminent
This cycle may go on for weeks, months or even more than a year. As Collins
states, teams are done “when they just know it”. This is the moment when all
three answers intersect. When the team feels with 100% certainty that this
central position is the “sweet spot” for the organization’s strategy.
If the team hasn’t quite reached that point yet, it is important to remember
that the open discussion is of value itself. Often, it will be in the course of
“normal” work outside of the Council that the ultimate answer becomes clear.