In the final of Wirecard Solutions South Africa’s three-part webinar series, ‘Reset, Restore, Renew’, it was expert facilitator, Peter Thomas who led participants through a practical masterclass of strategy planning and development. A defining feature of Peter’s approach is his insistence that it involve and include all relevant stakeholders, equally:

“The wealth of knowledge and wisdom available to you within your own group of people – be they colleagues, customers or suppliers – will astound you,” Peter said.

In opening his session, Peter told a captivating story about Okavango wildlife documentary makers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert. Specifically, of a film of theirs featuring a lioness named Fekeetsa, which means ‘overcomes’. Left for dead after a herd of buffalo attacked her for preying on one of their own, it was years before the filmmakers spotted Fekeetsa again. Left permanently wounded from the earlier attack, she had become a mother with two cubs to feed. The filmmakers documented how the lioness had learned to adapt her hunting skills for smaller, waterborne prey. Yet, adapt she did.

Peter used Fekeetsa’s story to talk about resilience – a recurrent theme throughout the webinar series, which in previous weeks had featured motivational speaker, Andre du Toit aka The Big Positive Guy, and Elzabè Opperman, MD of The Talking Point.

Having set the scene for his webinar, Peter went on to introduce two important points about creating the right framework for effective strategic planning:

 

Begin with the end in mind

Quoting Steve Covey’s bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Peter advises strategic planners to “begin with the end in mind”. By this he means to open the group’s thinking to a future scenario – one built

around resilience and sustainability. A great way to start is with open-ended questions, such as, ‘How can we build our business to be more resilient, agile and adaptive in the future?’ As questions go, it’s a great idea starter.

 

Collaborate every step of the way

Peter shared his personal, two-precept philosophy, shaped over decades of helping business leaders to develop winning strategies. The first is to trust your people. And the second is to trust your process.

To drive home his point about trust and inclusivity, Peter quoted master strategist and management thinker, Tony Manning. When asked by CEOs, ‘Who should we include in the strategy session?’ Manning’s reply is consistent: ‘Everyone’. Because, Peter said, you never know who will offer the most valuable insights or the best ideas. Also, because ideas get built up with more ideas from other contributions. This participative process, Peter stresses, is what makes a strategy gain traction and what assures it of successful implementation.

Peter then launched into the process of effective strategic planning, which involves a four-step process using his unique visual mapping methodology:

 

Step 1: Idea generation

This step begins with asking the right questions – in other words, focused on opportunities and/or threats. Peter’s advice, echoing his earlier point about creating the right framework for strategic planning, is to ensure that questions are open-ended. So, avoid questions that can lead to simple ‘yes, no’ answers. The questions should be exploratory, expansive and thought provoking. Another great piece of advice Peter gave is to ensure that questions are stated simply, ensuring that they are understood easily.

Participants are then asked to jot down their responses to questions. In the new world of remote working, this means typing them and sharing them with the rest of the group online.

 

Step 2: Clustering

 This next step, Peter said, can be the most challenging and requires a facilitator or coordinator skilled in assimilating, assessing and grouping a lot of information, quickly. With the facilitator’s guidance, the group clusters like-minded and related ideas. Put simply, clustering has the effect of coordinating the group’s thinking.

 

Step 3: Debate

 With 10-12 good ideas on the whiteboard (physical or digital), the next step involves group discussion. In describing the ‘debate’ component of the process, Peter said, “This is when things get interesting, as the rich diversity of thought begins to emerge from the group.”

With a plethora of digital communication tools and technology available – from Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting, to Zoom and Bluejeans – lively debate around the quality and prioritization of ideas is sure to ensue, albeit remotely.

 

Step 4: Evaluation

In reaching the final step of the process – evaluation – Peter explained that this is when the group’s ideas materialize into an action plan. At this point, it becomes the job of the chosen coordinator or facilitator to translate the ideas into key issues, which can then be actioned. Essentially, deciding who is doing what, and by when.

The session ends with the materialization of a report, which can then be finessed and finalized for distribution and approval.

Before taking questions from the webinar participants, Peter ended his webinar highlighting the key benefit of his four-step strategy building process. It brings people together. It’s a reliable way to motivate, engage and involve people in your business. Through their participation, people come to feel part of the plan, which gives them confidence, and a new sense of purpose.

At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has forced everyone to fundamentally rethink the meaning and purpose of their business, Peter Thomas’s unique strategy-building methodology is not just a tool. It’s life support.

You’ll find more about Peter’s unique visual mapping methodology, here.