A CAB is a strategy tool that should help your leadership team drive internal alignment tie directly to your annual business planning process. It should not exist in a vacuum. Here’s an example of how one CEO linked the two.

Lack of internal alignment

John and his team were working hard to grow the business; yet, while everyone was busy, the team members were not aligned with a common set of priorities. They were in a hurry going nowhere. When asked individually about the strategic direction of the company, each person gave a different answer. In addition, team leaders did not agree on how to measure customer success. Intuitively, they knew they had to realign their efforts; but, they didn’t know how to actually do that.

That’s when John decided to hold an executive offsite to capture a shared vision and drive alignment among his staff. Afterwards, his team launched their first CAB initiative to help them tune and validate the company’s newly defined strategic direction. In doing so, he successfully linked the formation of his CAB to his planning process.

Six steps to driving alignment

Step 1: Hone the objective of the leadership offsite

John decided upon three objectives for his leadership offsite:

  1. Review, refresh, and reaffirm the business strategy;
  2. Define guidelines on how the team should executive the business strategy;
  3. Capture and prioritize strategy questions requiring customer input.

John was also clear on setting expectations on what would not be discussed:

  • No reviewing operational plans;
  • No discussing tactical details; and
  • No problem solving.

This kept his team focused and productive.

Step 2: Identify and address the right strategic topics

To promote shared ownership, the CEO invited his staff to list and describe the strategic issues they wanted to discuss. They became responsible for framing the conversation. Prior to the meeting, he met with each owner and helped them focus the right questions for the right topic. This resulted in a tight agenda.

Step 3: Establish rules of engagement

John set expectations early and often on how this meeting would be run.

  • Start and end the meeting on time.
  • Clearly state the objective of the day — and don’t stray.
  • Specify what topics are not allowed.
  • Encourage discussions, not presentations.
  • Create an atmosphere of equality.
  • Avoid interuptions: no texting, emailing during the meeting.

Step 4: Invite creativity

When it comes to business strategy offsites, it’s helpful to find out what success means to each participant. John used this exercise as an icebreaker:

  • Break the team into small groups of 2-4 people.
  • Premise: Two years from now your company will be on the cover of TIME or Forbes (or a magazine of your choice).
  • What’s the headline? What’s on the cover? And, what’s the article about?
  • Participants have 15 minutes to sketch their cover on a flipchart.
  • Each group shares their personal vision of success.

This fast-paced, fun exercise energized his team. As the offsite progressed, people kept referring back to the illustrated visions they created. This added clarity to the conversations.

Step 5: Partner with an unbiased facilitator

Running a successful strategy offsite yourself isn’t always easy, especially when you need to balance managing the meeting while actively participating in it. That’s why John partnered with a facilitator.

Aside from the customary time-management aspect of facilitation, the most valuable contribution a facilitater makes is in being able to summarize each discussion, distilling the many points into a crisp “guideline statement” that addresses the strategic topic.

Step 6: Kickstart the CAB planning process

By now you may be wondering what steps 1-5 have to do with your CAB. The simple answer is everything! Your vision, operational guidelines, and strategic priorities are meaningless if they don’t connect you with your most strategic customers.

For each guideline discussed during the offsite, there are both strategic and operational implications worthy of customer input and feedback. There is a CAB-relevant corollary question for each of the strategic issues discussed. Here’s how this played out for John:

Guideline #1: Defining our differentiation

Internal question: What primary value do we provide and how do we defend it?

CAB question: How would you define the value we’re providing you? How might we become a more valuable partner to you in light of trends and drivers affecting your businesses?

Guideline #2: Market segmentation prioritization

Internal question: Should we actively focus on all three target market segments or only two?

CAB question: With regards to the next two-to-three years, where is your business growing the fastest? What markets are you focused on; what markets are you not investing in?

Guideline #3: Market readiness

Internal question: How do we ensure our products are ready for market?

CAB question: How can we deliver greater value to your company?

Guideline #4: Competition

Internal question: How do we balance our bookings target against competitive pressures? Must we address every move Competitor A makes?

CAB question: Which vendors in our industry are role models? Who does a particularly good job of catering to your needs and how are they doing that?

Guideline #5: Operating under resource constraints

Internal question: Are we focused or are we doing too much?

CAB question: Of the 100 things we could be doing to service your business, what are the top tree actions/activities you think we should prioritize?

Internal Alignment Achieved

While internal alignment is not achieved overnight, the offsite was a huge success. The CAB meeting that followed proved to validate John’s vision, and at times challenged the team’s assumptions. John continued to use this process in the years that followed.

For more information . . .

With a speciality in advisory boards, Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator vast experience. He’s helped some of today’s most innovative customers deliver world-class CAB meetings. He leads KickStart Alliance‘s CAB practice.

Contact Mike to learn more.