Case: What are our business unit’s strategic key questions? — 1.15

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As I write this, I want to share an experience with you. With several companies, I have worked with the question: “What are our business unit’s strategic key questions?”

This question has given me so intense experiences that I simply had to record a video about it, and now this video has been turned into a blog text!

A company has a strategy, and it must be visible in the units. There are business leaders who belong to a school of thought that a company must not have sub-strategies but only one strategy. I belong to this same school of thought. Typically, it’s very common for a company several different strategies; a marketing strategy, a sales strategy, an IT strategy, a staff strategy, etc. The downside is that they can dilute the business-wide upper-level strategy.

Text: “Company strategy, unit’s alternative”. A blue arrow goes from company strategy to unit’s alternative.

It’s a more considerable risk that the other strategies will go all over the place. The workaround is to have one strategy, which is possible by converting the various sub-strategies into focus areas, which then get placed under the primary strategy.  

Let’s look at how these alternatives are created. 

Customers' key strategic questions

Let’s approach this from a customer-oriented perspective as if wearing the customer’s glasses! What are the crucial key strategic questions, which the customers ask you? They are usually something like the following: 

Drawing of a man sweating. Text: “Customer’s key questions”; “How are you going to solve our crucial problem?”

The definition of work is to solve other people’s problems. Compensation is the reward! Let me show the logic in this. 

Top down + bottom up

The point is to go both top-down and bottom-up. If you would wear your customer’s glasses, what is the Ultimate One Customer Core Question, in which the customer needs your help? This is solved together with the unit key persons. The number one question breaks down into three key strategic questions. 

What is the challenge in which the customer needs us? Crystallize this into three key questions! 

Once you figure these out with your unit, you will get a helicopter view of your process. 

Flowchart describing how customer view process leads to key strategic questions, focus areas, goals for the next quarter and actions.

Every answer from each question is divided into two boxes. What is the market’s strategic rationale? WHY is this question important for the customer? The other box will be filled with answers about WHAT your response is to this question. Both boxes will have about 7-10 bullet points. Every question has its own page. 

All three key questions also get their own separate workshop. With efficiency, one workshop is done in less than two hours. With these three short meetings, the whole project is completed in a very short time. During the final meeting, the responses are crystallized into focus areas and the tasks needed to make them happen. 

A helicopter view over the business unit’s work

Can you see the thin blue (indigo) vertical line going through the “Next Quarter Goals” -box in the above image? Everything on its left side is the helicopter view over the process. I began yesterday’s meeting by saying, “Now I’ll be taking you on a refreshing helicopter ride!”  This helicopter ride will give an upper-level perspective to the unit’s work. 

I’ve mentioned my motto, which is: “Head in the clouds, but with really long legs.” 

If one looks at the operation from above, it looks different than from a grassroots level. Grassroots perspective is critical as well; we need it! However, it’s the central part of every work. The question is: If one jumps on a helicopter ride and invests these few hours in it, does it produce different kinds of goals than with a bottom-up method? – OF COURSE, IT DOES! 

Multi-level goals

In general, there are multi-level goals. There are yearly goals – like, closing the books each year (accounting)I have also talked a lot about units and businesses having quarterly goals because yearly goals are too high-level. People tend to implement the quarterly goals much more quickly. 

3 levels of arrows representing a different types of goals. Quarter goals, Annual Goals and Strategic Response. Text: “Different level goals”

This exercise is all about the long blue curve, the strategic responses. Of course, the financing unit in yesterday’s case has implemented this curve for a long time. It is now only made visible! They have implemented strategic responses but haven’t necessarily documented them. When they are documented, everything begins to look different! 

Facilitation — The Golden Grain

Let me share with you one more pride, which is also the gold grain of facilitation. As people sit in a meeting, an online meeting, for example, they all look at the screen. Every key question has been provided its own slide with two boxes filled with bullet points. The first box is filled with reasons WHY the customers want this thing. What is the market suction? The second box is filled with WHAT the company’s response is to the need. 

The gold grain of facilitation is when others speak, you transcribe it into text in front of them. This requires practice; I have practiced for years. It’s quite challenging, but when you get the hang of it, people begin thinking freely. They constantly see the summary of the conversation, and it leads to iteration and a better outcome. 

Drawing of different people attending a workshop. Text: “Gold grain of facilitation”; “Why?”; “What?”; “They speak – you transcribe it in front of them”

This is actually the climax of the strategy consultation. Even if the meeting language is Finnish, everything is written down in the internationally recognized corporate language, English. Crystallizing and simultaneously editing thoughts is a talent. But, when the meeting ends, it’s a wrap! It leads to a better quality of thinking. In an expert job like this, the difference between poor and better performance can be like the difference between one and one thousand. If you dig with a shovel, the difference can be double by that much. 


Here’s a hypothetical for you to think about. Let’s say you want to organize a party and hire a band to entertain the guests. You decide that classical music is the way and a string quartet is what you need. But you also want the band to perform something new… So you need a new composition! The question… Do you order a new composition from Mozart or Mr. Smith? What’s the difference in quality? Of course, Mr. Smith is the one you go with because Mozart is no longer among us! 

The gold grain of facilitation is the fact that the conversation is visible on the screen. Give me a call, and I’ll show you what it’s like in practice! 

Helicopter view

Let’s return once more to the subject of the helicopter view. If the helicopter perspective is in use and a few hours are invested in it, are the goals it produces better and different as if one would only operate on a ground level with one’s hands in the mud? OF COURSE. 

Drawing of a dart board and a helicopter. Text: “If we utilize the helicopter view, will it produce new better goals?”; “Of course!”

That’s what happened in yesterday’s process as well. People were delighted. It was refreshing to be on the upper level, not only in the operative everyday life. This is very exciting! 

What was the feedback?

Here are a few comments from yesterday’s meeting: 

what did people have to say? comments in finnish and english

“Todella tehokas tapa koostaa ja käsitellä melko suuria kokonaisuuksia.” – A very efficient way to compose and deal with the big picture    

“Great linkage through iterative structured way of working together.”  

“Kirkasti tavoitteita hyvin, tykkäsin prosessista. Saatiin hyviä ylätason tavoitteita, joihin hyvä linkittää alempien tasojen actioneita.”  – Clarified the goals well, I liked the process. We got good upper-level goals and good actions to link underneath them. 

Hyvää keskustelua josta päästiin myös ihan konkreettiseen alemman tason tekemiseen kiinni” – A good conversation from where we got down to lower-level activities. 

“Erittäin hyvää keskustelua, jonka Markus tiivisti tehokkaasti. Konkreettisten toimenpiteiden osalta painottaisin vielä perusprosessien kehittämistä. Siinä riittää paljon työtä.” – Very good conversation, which Markus crystallized efficiently. Regarding the concrete actions, I would emphasize the development of basic processes more. There’s a lot of work to do in just that.” 

“Hyvä fokus asioihin ja tarpeisiin.” – A good focus on matters and needs.

“Great discussion followed by conclusions. We need to keep this alive and updated.”  

I always tell the management team members that I’m so tired of the comment “Good conversation”. Conversing is important, but the outcome is very important and it’s often absent from the conversation. 

Final Check

Once you have the strategic responses to the customers’ questions and the market situation, it’s time for the final check. 

Drawing of a Strategy 1Pager. Text: “Final Check”; “Company strategy sector”; “Unit’s alternative”; “Strategy 1Pager”

The point is to check that you are inside the boundaries set by the company’s strategy, within the lines of the sector. The blue arrow is the strategic response! 

Ignite your strategy by answering crucial strategic key questions! Read more.🔥 

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