Today’s Recipe: How to Slow Cook Your Strategy

by Joiwind Ronen, Partner at Wheelhouse Group

For most of us, strategic planning is a yearly exercise we take on grudgingly. We know we need it, but the annual offsite begins to feel a bit rote.

As a new leader coming into Wheelhouse, I took the opportunity to ask: can we do it differently AND get even better results?

Spoiler alert: We will never go back to our traditional approach (and it’s remote-friendly)!

How do you like your strategy – flash fried or slow-cooked?

When we designed our process pre-Covid, we considered a 2-3 day offsite to reflect on the previous year and plan for the coming years.

This quick-turn approach is analogous to flash frying – cooking all the ingredients at a very high temperature for a minimal amount of time.

Planning team

While at the end of this effort we knew we would have a plan – we weren’t sure it would give us the time, space, or feedback necessary to achieve our very ambitious goals.

So we asked ourselves, how do we create a more agile design with opportunities for input, allowing us to test ideas with ample time for contemplation?

We took pieces of different approaches we had each been part of and smushed them together in a “best of” design. We decided to rely on a core leadership team of 4 led by a rockstar facilitator. We met weekly for an entire quarter and brought in additional guest participants as needed. We used the time in between meetings to solidify ideas, build consensus and gather additional information as needed.

We affectionately refer to this as the slow-cooker method. It is uniquely designed to give all the many ingredients time to cook together so they mesh into a cohesive strategy stew!

Test kitchen: our tips for your strategy

Today I am a convert for slow-cooking a strategy. As an added benefit this approach works very well with remote teams. It also doesn’t require an extended amount of time in one sitting (which can be too much in these Covid times). And, because it evolves over a series of weeks it is easily adaptable when conditions change.

Having tried multiple approaches, here are my 5 top tips and take-aways for slow cooking your strategy:

1. Hold short, frequent meetings

Our core approach was tapping a core leadership once a week for an entire quarter. We used a facilitator to lead us through a business model canvas template. We dove into a single issue each session such as value proposition, impact, implementation plan, roles, etc. This helped us stay on track and answer the “meaty strategic questions.”

2. Take advantage of the “space between”

We were able to meet and address portions of our business in bite-size nuggets and then take a week or more to let it marinate before coming back together to discuss our evolved thinking. We found that this “space between” allowed us all to get comfortable with the concepts, test them out, document assumptions, gather feedback, and improve in real-time.

3. Engage team members

Often we wait until a strategy is completely cooked to share it; this time we shared as we went. While we had a small core team, we purposely solicited and highlighted a diversity of staff views. When we finally rolled-out the strategy, everyone felt part of the process and could actually see themselves in it and see how they can contribute.

4. Make hypotheses, test assumptions

Strategic planning isn’t linear – yet in order to move forward we often make decisions too rapidly. So, instead we used a “try it and see” approach – we treated everything as an experiment. We used the time between sessions to test ideas so that we knew whether to keep going in the same direction or come back together and pivot.

5. Grow trust

As my colleague, Loretta Cooper, noted in her recent GovLoop article: trust is not “built” – it grows in the process of working effectively together. By engaging in a collaborative strategic planning process over a period of a few months, our leadership team grew trust in each other and trust in our collective capability. A fabulous byproduct indeed!

While this approach is a longer-term commitment than a quick offsite, I have learned that a slow cooked plan has time to grow deeper roots (or perhaps bolder flavors?).

Because it is developed in iterations, it can easily be further refined which provides a solid, yet adaptive foundation for the years to come.

Happy 2021 planning everyone!

So that’s what we are cooking over here at Wheelhouse. I would love to hear how you approach strategy. Any great recipes to share?

Joiwind Ronen, Wheelhouse Group

Joiwind Ronen
Partner, Wheelhouse Group
Joiwind Ronen is a Partner at the Wheelhouse Group and has spent the past 20 years pursing her passion to help mission-driven organizations better serve the needs of the American public. She uses her skills as a strategist, change agent, and facilitator to engage stakeholders and increase their impact. At Wheelhouse Group, she leads company strategy, builds partner relationships, and oversees a portfolio of client engagements.