Short Story: Instead of voting on strategic priorities, use exercises incorporating individual perspectives and strategic conversations to make fact-based decisions on where to focus your company's attention.

How do you approach prioritizing strategic opportunities?

There is no one way that’s right for deciding among competing initiatives. In fact, we don’t even use just one way to prioritize them.

Prioritizing Strategic Opportunities

One frequent prioritization approach works well when we have tons of ideas in a strategy workshop and need to quickly (and spontaneously) narrow them to a manageable number.

We get there by estimating how many ideas we have, taking 1/5 of that number of ideas (assuming that 20% of the ideas at most have near-term applicability). We divide the number of participants into that number. The result is how many ideas each person can select for prioritization. They don’t need to get agreement from anyone to select an idea. Only one individual must believe in an idea for the group to consider it. Everyone then places their ideas on a large x-y grid based on an individual assessment. After every idea is placed, the group engages in a strategic conversation about each idea’s placement. The group discussion determines the ultimate location for each idea on the grid.

With more time, we frequently develop a decision support tool for a client to use in prioritizing strategic opportunities.

This involves working with the organization’s leadership team to identify important factors shaping strategic decisions. After selecting the factors, we work with them to describe very attractive, attractive, and unattractive options for each factor. We then create a decision support tool allowing each team member to assess an opportunity individually. After everyone is done with the ratings, we aggregate the results. The subsequent conversation focuses not on where everyone agrees, but on areas of disagreement. We look for differences in information, assumptions, and/or perspectives and work at resolving them. These conversations are typically efficient so we can quickly reach decisions across multiple initiatives.

2 Things in Common

Notice what is similar with the two methods? Each one involves individual assessment followed by group conversation.

Starting with people offering individual perspectives without influence from others taps greater diversity in thinking. The group’s strategic conversation creates the opportunity to challenge individual perspectives that may be off the mark.

Even though we don’t have only one method for prioritizing strategic opportunities, pairing individual perspectives and strategic conversation among a group works well to focus on the smartest alternatives.  – Mike Brown

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