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Zen And The Art Of Strategy: Taking A Corporate Strategic Retreat

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at September 20, 2021

Beth Jannery worked for a Fortune 100 Company and advises about Strategic Communications and Workforce Trends for high-growth clients.  

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” These are the famous words from Sun Tzu, best known for The Art of War. But what opportunity?

Right now, company leaders may be experiencing chaos. When leaders feel overwhelmed, our survival instincts propel us to dive in and tackle what’s next and work harder potentially to the point of exhaustion. After all, realistically, we need to hit revenue targets, keep clients happy and (oh, yeah) profit while experiencing transformational digital growth (insert the eye roll emoji at the latest business buzzword).

But deep inside, when we take the time to listen, we know what matters most. And right now, something feels off. Something needs to change. Let’s hit the pause button.

Sun Tzu also said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Sounds like it may be time for a “strategy retreat.”

A what? A strategy retreat — pause, breathe, retreat, transform, grow, repeat — is as important as a vacation for the business soul. This is your eat, pray, love moment for your company’s strategic success.

The Power Of Strategy

A strategy is having a plan of action, which is the overarching wisdom or vision. A plan is how to implement it: What are the steps involved to get there or the critical details for achieving the strategy? How do you get there?

As someone who has run strategy retreats, I’ve come to understand that the most important step is to simply dedicate the time. It doesn’t have to be a week. In fact, it could be a few hours together with your leadership team on a weekday. Imagine iPhones on silent, laptops closed. If it makes your heart race, that’s a good thing. That which makes us uncomfortable helps us grow. Do what feels uncomfortable. See, the Zen of strategy is already giving you all the feels.

And remind yourself that you aren’t alone. A recent Harvard Business Review article examines the value of a strategy. Its author says, “The CEO’s job of crafting a strategy that creates and captures value — and keeps realizing it over time — has never been harder.” He goes on to say that “all too often those failures occur because the CEO’s approach to strategy isn’t holistic.”

There’s an entire strategy landscape that can be looked at during a strategy retreat. But it means making the time.

Best Practices For A Strategy Retreat

First, accept that your leaders may need a strategy retreat. Sending them on one or bringing one into the workplace is as vital as taking a vacation. We already know about the power of wellness for employees, so think of a strategy retreat as a healthy start to creating a new strategic vision. Next, consider these tips:

• Risk being still. Take the risk and slow down. First things first, plan and then implement the action later. This may be counterintuitive to the corporate grind that so many of us endure. Consider this: The biggest action you can take as a leader is with stillness. Stillness is an action. Mind blown.

• Slow down to go fast. Here’s where you can bring more Zen into the workplace, and specifically to your companies’ strategic vision. In the words of Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Ouch. Lao Tzu also said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” So, take time to plant seeds of change and recognize that strategy is the seed.

• Keep it simple. Dr. Vijay Govindarajan, a leading expert on strategy and innovation, advocates for organizations to reinvent themselves to stay successful. In his book, The Three-Box Solution, he fits everything into three boxes: manage the present, selectively forget the past and manage the future.

• Strategize before communicating. Lean into expertise. Asking for help is okay. You can’t communicate what you don’t have. Leaders sometimes think that if they build it, they will come, but that’s not necessarily the case. Too often companies try to create narratives, tell stories, put out messaging and branding before strategic planning. That’s backward. Instead, plan first, build your strategy, then communicate the vision.

Remember, if it’s confusing internally, it’ll be murky at best externally. And you want your clients to have a clear vision of who you are as a company and what you stand for. That begins with your employees. Here’s some data to mull over. Seventy-two percent of employees don’t fully understand or embrace their company strategy, according to IBM. This is a problem. It’s an inside job. The solution? Clarify your direction and vision during your strategy retreat.

• Go easy on yourself. You’re busy running a company. You’re slammed capturing big business, making deals and building relationships. Keep at it. That’s the important stuff.

In the midst of all the chaos, carve out time to put that strategy retreat on the company calendar. Your company and team are worth it. Namaste.


Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?


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