Webinar – Business Strategy: How to Analyse Options in the “New Normal” and Create an Actionable Plan

John G. Courtney, founder and chief executive of Boardroom Advisors will give you an insight into growing the business post lockdown – putting systems, processes and teams together, how to analyse options in the “new normal” and create an actionable plan, and how mentors, board advisory and non-executive directors can help in different ways.

Business Strategy Toolkit

An actionable business strategy is essential if you want to be clear about where you are going and how you plan to get there. Includes SWOT Analysis, Crisis Strategy Assessment, MOST Analysis, Detailed Video Guide and a Quick Reference Guide.

Download the Business Strategy Toolkit

Video Transcript

Isabella: Good Morning everybody, how is everyone doing this Thursday morning? Just so you know, you are in the right place, today is your Business Strategy: how to analyse options in the “new normal” and create an actionable plan. Now this is a little different from what we usually run, which is mostly with the legals but we decided to partner with John C., The CEO of Boardroom Advisors to bring you guys something that you can use as the market starts to normalize. And we will be waiting a few minutes as some others struggle to join but in the meantime, I would let John introduce himself to you.

John: Thanks very much Isabella, Good Morning everybody! Welcome to this webinar. Business Strategy:how to analyse options in the “new normal” and create an actionable plan.

As Isabella says, I’d just give you an intro while waiting for strugglists. So, Boardroom Advisors, we provide part-time Executive Directors, that is Commercial Directors, Operations Directors, Managing Directors — part- time or Interim. We do that nationally. We got 14 Regional Directors and 60 advisors.All have, some have grey hair, some have none but all have great experience.And that’s the end of the advert.

So, I was very lucky to train as a strategy consultant back in the day. This is my 7th business. I trained as a strategy consultant after my 3rd or 4th, I can’t remember that.

I learned a lot of stuff I wish I learned in my early businesses and I’m gonna share some of that with you today. I’m gonna share some tools that you may know already but just as a refresher and some we have crafted ourselves. 

The idea is, you know this is a terrible situation but also it’s an excellent opportunity. Good entrepreneurs recognize opportunity and that is how to plan your way out of the current situation and be as effective and efficient as possible. So, that’s the plan. Right, let’s start on our slides.

So everyone who just joined, so you know, this is John C. from Boardroom Advisors and he will be taking you through in his years of 7 businesses of experience: how to prepare post crisis. So, without further ado, Let’s officially start, John it’s over to you, just if the internet does wobble for a few people, in the right, just turn off your camera and that means it’s diverted to what’s you’re actually saying but if there are no issues, I’ll leave you to it and let’s get cracking.

Thanks very much Isabella, just a flag up to you that there are some free downloads available on creating actionable plans and I’ll be showing those at the end of the webinar. Okay, so without further ado, let’s just have a quick whisk through the slides.

So, listen we advise lots of companies, both those funded and those perhaps have been more established for a long time. And we look at some of these key issues when we’re discussing with them : How do you discuss strategy? Who’s responsible for it? How do you analyze it? Do you do it yourselves or Do you do it with a board of advisors or an exec director or a consultant? 

Strategy can well be done internally, can also be done with select external advice and assistance. So, we just go through with some chats like that just to see where everybody stands. We also go through these checklists. Why look at strategy? Isn’t it tried, boring and dusty?

Actually no, bits of strategy are actually exciting. It gives your organization a direction. It allows you to plan it out. We’re going to go through those planning tools today.

An old chestnut that you all know which is  SWOT analysis, we’re not going to spend alot on it but we are just going to whisk through it briefly because it’s very useful in my book.

We’re going to look at something I’ve learned when I was a strategy consultant, which is MOST analysis, which is vaguely similar to RKRs, if people are familiar with that. Both are useful, many of these tools are useful.

We’re also going to look at the tool that we’ve developed ourselves, which is a CRISIS assessment. A kind of handy in the current situation but can apply to many. And really strategic direction is what a board is there for. It’s not for the day to day management issues, that is for a management team or a management board however you’re structured. But the board of a company is there for strategic direction. Where are you now, where do you want to get to and how is the best course you’re going to chart to get from A to B.

Right, a quick whisk to SWOT. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths & Weaknesses are internal, things inside the company. Opportunities and Threats, things that are external to the company. So something like a, perhaps a perceived weakness of financial strength would be an internal weakness. Perhaps the threat from Covid would be an external threat, also could be an external opportunity. And things can be both opportunities and threat, can be both strengths and weaknesses because there’s always two sides to a coin.

So, when we’re drawing this out on a board or on a whiteboard or whatever it is. Often we’re flipping through the charts talking about the weakness but then what’s the flipside of it — can that also be looked at as a sign of strength? And SWOT analysis, I find is really really useful for one main purpose and that’s getting all the issues out on the table. It doesn’t do anything with them. But it’s really useful to get them out on the table.

 The best format we’ve discovered is not sitting in a darkened room with a pen or piece of paper or a word document but instead better done in a small group with a flip charts, whiteboard, whatever and brainstorming. 

Nobody coming up with preconceived ideas, nobody having prepared earlier but just doing it raw because things come out off the top of the head. And you know people, you get around the room, you let people shout out as they come. Other people’s ideas lead further people to then think about different ideas and put their hand up and get those on the board as well. So it’s useful done as a group.

With brainstorming rules applying, so that is no criticism, no analysis or discussions, at least not at the beginning. It’s All at the top of the head, don’t care if it’s left filled, get it to the board until it runs dry. Do all the strengths, do any weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And then you got four lists of things. Try not to analyze them till you get  all four because, as I say things would be part strengths and part weaknesses, perhaps. And then start doing a little bit of analysis. Have a look perhaps at the weaker points being made. But if you join a couple of them up together perhaps they become a stronger point. Perhaps some discussion, and perhaps knock some things that are big issues. 

We are trying to get at the end of the day are the big issues. The big strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Never mind the long list. You really want to say, the core ones, go through, get these people hand up, asterisk on the board, or whatever it is so you know the core, the  big issues that need to be tackled.

While SWOT has a weakness in itself and it doesn’t do any with these things, we want to be able to use MOST analysis in order to take the core issues here and do things with them, that’s why it’s useful. Not in itself but in conjunction with MOST analysis as with what I’ve said earlier, RKRs.

So, there is a download.  I’ll flag up now, which you’ll be able to get access to. I’ll show you how to do it at the end of the slides. We’re going to come back to that in a minute. 

One of the things also to have a look at is our CRISIS assessment tool and what it does with SWOT analysis. One of the things it’s useful — is to go through this particular tool. It’s just a series of questions really and then perhaps amend your SWOT or add to it or change it depending on what the answers are. 

So how does this work? It’s like an onion peeling away layers. First of all, defining the crisis, what actually is it? And what do you think is likely to change in the world as a whole? Just an example, one of the things that has already changed and perhaps will continue to change for the time being is reduced international travel, just an example. What’s likely to change in your industry? You’re going down the layers as it were. How does this affect you? Not just international travel but the other things that are changing or may change in the world. 

You have to be a bit of a crystal ball gazer –I know, but it’s better that than not doing planning. 

Planning is really educated guessing. You know sometimes people would say to me, well, ‘You know,  I don’t know what’s going to happen’. No, but you can make an educated guess. You’ve been in the industry awhile. But if you’re not sure, if you’re not certain, put your best guess down, it’s better than not planning.

And how those changes affect your revenue stream? Will it create new ones? Will it cut out some revenue streams? Will it dilute them, will it increase them? What about your value proposition?

Value proposition, I think is one of the core issues in the business. You should be able to say very clearly in one sentence what it is that you provide that’s different to your target audience and your competitors and how would your value proposition change? Will it change? It might not.

Some have completely changed. There’s one company supplying food to companies and then of course lockdown came and they couldn’t. They started supplying to people’s homes. And now people are going back out of lockdown and they’re switching back again. How will it change your value proposition? How does it make you different than that of others? And how will it alter your customer segment and your relationships? Are you going to be selling to the same people? Are you going to be dealing with those people in the same way? And these are all loveliest questions but it’s worth going through them, one by one, writing down the answers because sometimes, it really makes a difference and you can discover things.

So, to continue, how will it alter your distribution channel and your partners? Are you going to be selling more direct? So, an example would be grocery, shopping — people now who didn’t use grocery shopping have now tried it, loved it.They  like TESCO and would likely to do a great deal more. What about your resource needs? Staffing? Offices? Obviously, this is an issue that is being talked about. Are you gonna need less staff or more? Are you going to be working from home or do you need an office at all? Boardroom Advisors, we are completely virtual, we’ve always been completely virtual right from the very beginning. We now know, we will know that being virtual is different but there’s not much you can’t do. We held strategy meetings with clients, we do workshops, we ran board meetings, we do all these virtually. Of course, we do go to the client’s premises and ran face to face as well.

What about your cost structure? How is that going to be affected? So, just a series of questions and again there’s a download which is just a simple fill in sheet but it’s handy. And I’ll show you where that is at the end of the slides, that’s the CRISIS strategy assessment.

So, you’ve done your SWOT analysis, you’ve double checked it with the CRISIS strategy assessment, you’ve amended the SWOT, as possibly as a result.  So you now got issues and then its taking them all and doing things with them. So, one of the things I’ve learned, probably the main thing I’ve learned in strategy school was MOST analysis. Really thorough, really efficient. And MOST started from the left, going around clockwise. MOST stands for Mission, Objectives, Strategies and Tactics. It sounds a little simple like SWOT but it’s actually a bit more complicated, more involved in that. 

So with Mission, we’re talking about the company’s business purpose. We’re not talking about, this isn’t the vision statement, this isn’t anything else. It’s hard brass tacts, I suggest, is the best way of doing this. So first of all, you choose a time scale. One year is a good timescale. And doing this process, doing SWOT analysis, doing a MOST analysis, if there’s a crisis, doing a crisis tool as well, annually. It’s really good. People often leave it but best on regularly. So what is the business mission? If you choose a timescale a year, two years, three years, or even two timescales — one and three years is quite common because people want something relatively short term and something a bit being further ahead. The days are doing fine and any of the plans have gone forever because the world just moves too quickly these days but what do you want to achieve in terms of sales and profit? Keep it simple. Don’t think about products and territories and staffing. Don’t go into the vision stuff, what’s gonna be the best here? Keep it simple, business mission, what do you want? 

First of all, what have you got? Where are you in terms of your sales and your profit currently? We did a workshop recently with a client and we have four people in the company in the room and they all have a different idea about what their current sales and profit were going to be. So make sure you are on firm footing. And then, project forward and don’t worry that it’s an educated guess because that’s what it has to be. In a year’s time, three years’ time — where is it you want, realistically want and hope and expect your sales and profits to be. You know, you should be realistic and achievable. The size of which you do this, the size of which you want to grow determines the volume of things you’re going to do later on in the MOST analysis.

So, for example, you want to grow by 1% over three years, give you a silly example, then actually you don’t need to do very much, you kind of need to hang on what you’ve got which is possibly quite the right kind of thing to do. If however, you want to increase by 50% in 12 months, my gosh you have to do a lot. So further down the line, in your objectives and strategies and tactics, you’ll gonna have to do some big things. So the speed that which you’ll want to move, and I’m not persuading you to move quicker, it’s just realize the speed that which you want to grow, if that’s what you want to do, determines things down the line. So that’s kind of setting the mission. Often in a workshop situation, we probably spend 50% of the time on the mission. That sounds crazy but actually getting everybody round the table to agree: A. where they are now? B. where they’re going to be, is quite tricky. People are different ages, they have different agendas, they have different perceptions. And so getting consensus around the table or at least compromise is essential before you move on. Otherwise everything is built on sand. 

Once you’ve agreed that then what are the objectives, what are the key goals that help achieve the mission? It’s really difficult to think of those off the top of your head. So what you do is you go back to the SWOT analysis or even the amended SWOT analysis off the crisis assessment. And you say, what are the really big key issues here? Perhaps start with weaknesses or opportunities – those are probably the core’s. What are the big weaknesses if we want to get to our mission — what are the really big weaknesses that we really have to fix just for us to get there? So that’s why just to get a sense of scale, size, priorities of these strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is essential. Because you don’t want many objectives to handle. If you have a big long list of things, you’ll never get through it. Let’s pick a number, 6ish, it doesn’t have to be an exact number but you don’t want 15 because it’s just too much. You won’t get through it, you’ll get disillusioned, you’ll get disheartened and you’ll all be spending time on smaller issues. Spend time on big issues. So, if it’s a couple of weaknesses, a couple of opportunities, one strength you really have to hand on to, one weakness you really have to fix. You’ll got half a dozen, also that’s an exact number.

Let’s take an example I’ve used briefly earlier, perhaps there’s a perceived weakness of financial strength, how are you going to rephrase that as an objective? I’m making this up on top off my head, so the objective might be to create a better perception of our financial strength. But you need to write out at the end which will, which will what? What’s the reason for doing that? Why are you tackling this particular thing, making this an objective? Which will perhaps take us into bigger enterprise clients. And you got to have a reason for doing it. If you can’t work out ‘which will?’ then perhaps you’re not tackling the right one. There must be a good reason for it to appear on your half a dozen or so objectives. In summary for your objectives, you’re going back to your SWOT or amended SWOT, then taking the big issues, mainly around weakness, mainly around opportunities and you’re converting them to objectives by turning it around and adding ‘which will’ to give it a sense of purpose.

And then for each of those objectives, each of them you need to drill down, because you have that, you don’t have anything yet —  but the statement of intent, there’s nothing more than that. The great thing about MOST analysis is that it derives action. At the end of the day, the tactics at the far end, will appear on the people’s tasks lists and that means it drives it forward. Just going back to objectives, for each of those objectives, you want to look at quick strategies. Strategies as it says on the slides, are options to achieve the objectives. What are the options? You’re not trying to come up with the perfect answer here, you’re just, again, brainstorming in a group ‘What are the options?’ Let’s go back to the example, what are the options if we want to achieve to change the perceived weakness of financial position. 

What are the options? Go around the room, what are the options here? What could we do to change that perception? Might not be a real answer, it might be a perception. We’ll, we could might get funding in, we could perhaps get a part time finance director or a full time finance director, you know — there’s options. And you brainstorm these options and discussing them until you get the list. Because you need to choose one or possibly two strategies to actually implement. So which are the best options. You don’t know for sure, they’re best guess at the table. What does everybody think? Perhaps you might choose two. Perhaps you might choose to go and get some funding and at the same time you might choose to get a part time finance director and you’re going to pursue both strategies. That’s what we’re going to play with for now. 

For each of those strategies, you need to drill down into tactics. These are what you put in people’s task lists. Sp, who’s going to own it? Who’s going to have the armband for raising funding? IS your channel going to do this? Or you’re going to get a non exec director or advisor. Somebody has to hold the armband, that somebody has to be internal. Even if you’re going to get a corporate finance company in to help you, somebody internally perhaps, the General or CEO, has to be responsible for that armband. The tactics, so he has the armband, so somebody has responsibility, and what is he going to do? And when is he going to do it by or at least when is he going to start.

So, if you’re going to look in for funding, so the Chairman, let’s say, is going to continue, what’s the action? Going around the room is coming up with ideas. Well perhaps you’re talking to crowdfunding. If you’re a bigger company, you’re talking to VCs, to angels, or whatever. If you’re looking for a part time finance director, who’s going to hold that responsibility? Perhaps it’s the sales director, as an example, and he’s going to look for companies that provide part time directors. Or perhaps, you’re going to place an advert and it’s due by next month. 

So, somebody has responsibility and there is a time scale and there’s an action. And then everything is going to somebody’s to do list. And then the tactics are going anti clockwise, around that circle. So the tactics, if they work, are going to help achieve the strategic objective. And if the strategies work, the objectives are likely to be met, or it’s possibly you might well reach or get close to your mission. 

So everything hangs together from top to bottom and bottom to top. MOST does two things . One is to put things on people’s tasks list. It drives things forward in action which is brilliant. Secondly, because it all ties together from top to bottom, if you get stuck or something doesn’t work,= and believe me, something will not work, quite a few things, some of the strategies you choose won’t come up with the desired results. You don’t know for sure. You are choosing your best guess. But when they don’t work, then it’s just double checking, are we dealing with the right objective? Perhaps we have chosen the wrong strategy or perhaps if we nudge this strategy or direction, it would still work, or replace this strategy. What else did we discuss? What else was on that flip chart? What were the other options we’ve looked at. Perhaps, we need to re-look at those options, perhaps that better.

You got so much to go back to when things don’t go quite right. And if you don’t have a structure or a process like these, whether it’s this or RKRs, then you don’t really know where to go back then you then to go from objective to tactic with nothing in the middle. And that’s when ‘ You know, well perhaps that part about the  part time directors really should and we’ll have to live with our perceived financial weakness. No, when you put a structure in place, you have something to go back to. So that’s MOST analysis. And you can look at it graphically, this is exactly the same content really but in a linear fashion but with triggers in there. 

So Mission, where, where do you want to go in a timescale. The objectives from the SWOT. Strategies are just options and the tactics are tasks and timescales. So that’s MOST analysis. And in conjunction of those 3 tools together really gives you a structure and a process on which to analyze strategic direction and hopefully cope with some other things. 

With the other tools, MOST analysis templates there, which are free download and I’ll show you in a minute. 

So this is the Business Strategy Toolkit page on our website, which shows you how to get there. So you go to our homepage, this is the homepage of our website. You see there’s a resources section and under there there’s these tools. That’s the page and you land on the business strategy toolkit. 

So just finally, just a couple of slides on why use of advisors? You can do strategy internally and that’s absolutely fine. Depending on the size of the business but even small businesses using an outside advisor — always recommended. It doesn’t have to be us, there’s lots of options out there. Why? You get outside opinion, you get some more expertise, some experience — we’ll say our guys some have grey hairs some have none but they all have great experience, you get contacts — if you want, for example, to raise funding, find a part time director, or whatever it is. The sheer process of having an advisor and perhaps regularly looking at things — means that you plan. ‘Oh God, he’s coming next week, we better get going to what we said we’re going to do’ — that’s quite common. 

You get some mentoring, perhaps some training as well. Good advisors — they  should have a coaching mentality. It’s not precious about holding information to yourself, it’s about sharing it — as what we’re doing today. And coaching people, helping people to eventually do things without the support, perhaps relevant to experience of scale-ups if you’re in a scale up market place. Somebody that could think long- term. Doing it all internally, people tend to think too short term at times.

You need somebody with similar values and a good reputation obviously. Just ask around and draw up a brief if you can. What is it that you’re trying to achieve? What role do you want them to have? Is it as any day board advisor, part time and what skills and experience? And don’t worry, you don’t necessarily, people often say’ We’ll I didn’t expert in my industry. It’s not necessarily the best thing. You know, think about somebody that has at least a broad experience of the sector of your industry but also has a wider experience — that wider experience of different industries will be very useful.

As a management consultant for 10 years and people who kept me for a while I did from time to time ask them, Well you know, what is it you find MOST use? And most of them said, we’ll it’s because you got broad experience, you cross reference one idea from one industry to another. So get somebody with some broad experience and have a clear idea of what you want your advisor to achieve and the timescales for doing that. Be very realistic. But just getting an advisor or getting a non-exec without a purpose, without some objective can lead into some difficulties. Have some clear goals. 

And how do you find them, well you know some of them already, you can reach out, have somebody with some experience and have a genuine interest and you have some chemistry. You know when you meet them the first time, you should sense their excitement. If they’re not excited, then perhaps it’s not the best place to be. 

That’s kind of it for the slides. Just last slide up there, that’s the graphic of my LinkedIn profile. Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and there’s my email and my web address. Isabela, I think you’ll be sending out my contact details as well together with a video of what we’ve just done is that right?

Isabella: Yes, just after this webinar, all of you will be receiving the recording and clearly if John is willing, his contact details to get in touch and see what you guys can do at Boardroom advisors. John, thank you very much and definitely slightly more business focus than what we usually do but super valuable nonetheless. Does anybody have any questions? If you want to ask John now, remember you can ask John later today when you get his email. I apologize for your Inbox John. SeedLegals community tends to have larger questions–which is great.

For now, does anybody have anything they’d like to follow up on? If there’s nothing, I think we all can get along with our day and you guys can get in touch with him when questions do come up or when you want to point the right person to drive you in that direction and that is something that I will emphasize now. And the reason that we ran this webinar is that even though you know your sector, our business, it is so particularly when you’re strategizing something like this to get outside input and have the experience to grow properly and save you a lot of time and not making the mistakes that you would. This is something that’s important to all of you, do take into account what he said and when you are ready to try the right person, definitely head over to Boardroom advisors. Amazing! We’ll I’m gonna end it there. Thank you very much John and we can call it a day.

John: Thanks very much everybody

Written by: John Courtney

John is highly ranked in the Top 100 UK Entrepreneurs list by City AM and is winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from techSPARK. He has been a Board Director himself for over 40 years and first started placing Non-Executive Directors over 25 years ago. John founded and ran seven of his own businesses including a Management Consultancy for 10 years, a Corporate Finance offering for 10 years and a mid-sized Digital Agency for another 10 years.