How much time do you waste chasing Sharknados?
“I thought that the purpose of these offsites was to gather input from the broader team,” stated Jordan’s* colleague, “What are you so afraid of?”
“Sharknados,” said Jordan.
By “Sharknados,” Jordan, a business unit leader at a Fortune 500 technology company, meant that she was wary about getting the team together to shape the organization’s strategy only for them to ‘spin cycles’ about why it won’t work or to focus on highly unlikely scenarios.
For those unfamiliar, “Sharknado” refers to the cult SyFy Channel movie series in which a waterspout lifts sharks from the ocean and drops them onto land where the sharks proceed to terrorize the general population. Yes, you read that correctly and as ridiculous as that premise sounds, the idea spawned a highly profitable movie franchise.
Yet she knew the purpose of gathering the team was to gain input and buy-in on the coming year’s plan. She also knew that plenty of strategies have failed because the team overlooked a risk that seemed unimaginable and they didn’t have a plan for when “Sharknados” actually hit.
Her challenge: How do I get input from the team that strengthens our strategy, allows us to anticipate non-obvious threats, and aligns us around accountabilities heading into the next year?
Improve the chances of successful strategy execution by:
- Making it safe for dissenters who are knowledgeable about the undertaking and worried about its weaknesses to speak up
- Busting the biases that cause leaders to “miss” the signals or trends that could threaten the project’s or strategy’s success
- Prioritizing identified risks to prepare for the catastrophic and likely to occur without getting stuck trying to address the extremely unlikely scenarios.
Solution: The team embarked on a “Risk-Storming Retreat” designed to pressure-test their strategy for the coming year. This half-day experience was built on the following four steps:
- Risk-Storm the Future: Infuse creativity into the strategy planning process by encouraging the team to brainstorm all possible reasons that a strategy might fail. Make it clear that all ideas and risks are encouraged at this point.
- Assess Impact and Probability: Review the risks and group them based on the probability and impact for each.
- Ideate Ways to Minimize and Mitigate: Create plans to mitigate and minimize identified risks. Focus first on the risks that are more likely to occur and have a greater impact. Then move to the scenarios which may have a catastrophic impact, but are less likely to occur (i.e. the Sharknado).
- Share Plans, Capture Learnings, and Assign Accountabilities: Performing this exercise in a diverse group allows for a variety of lenses on the same challenge. For example, Sam, a VP of US Sales identified the need to focus on a very non-traditional customer segment to overcome a potential risk.
That idea sparked specific actions for Marco, a VP based in South America, who was aware of but hadn’t spent time building relationships with that particular customer segment. He committed to meet with four of those customers and shared the insights he gained back to the team.
In the end, the team aligned around a common language of creative problem solving, asked better questions, and achieved operational efficiencies in key client-facing processes. By more effectively seeing around corners, the team was even able to reduce what was once a month-long process by seven days. This allowed the team to celebrate the efficiency gain, take a day off and, more importantly, repurpose part of the saved time to deliver valuable insights back into the business.
And although the team now has a plan for it, they haven’t encountered a Sharknado….Yet.
Footnote: *Names and titles have been changed. The above is a hypothetical scenario compiled from a variety of client interactions and outcomes.