Almost every Board-level director will say that they put time aside to discuss strategy. What’s rarely mentioned is the quality and usefulness of those discussions. Do they get to the heart of the issues that will determine an organisation’s long-term success?  
In Criticaleye’s latest CEO Retreat 2019 research, just under two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said that the quality of debate on strategy with the Board needs to improve. The research also shows that – for two years running – CEOs have identified the primary reason for failure in the executive team as a lack of time given to strategic discourse.  
Mark Silver, Chair of Cordic and a Criticaleye Board Mentor, recognises the challenges faced at both management-team and Board levels in creating dynamic discussions. “I’ve worked with organisations where naturally the strategy and operations are both discussed, but if it’s not and it becomes too focused on day-to-day operations, then you almost need to force the pace,” he says.   
“You need to set strategy away days; you need to have a Board agenda which is focused on strategy and forward-thinking; and you need to think about opportunities in your organisation. You also need to have a series of KPIs or management information which will allow you to move forward as opposed to looking backwards all the time.”  
Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at Webhelp UK, highlights the importance of putting structures in place to support senior leaders. “You have to get a really strong operational leadership team and I think there is no compensation for that. You have to have trusted people that have got the ability to challenge and to make decisions,” she explains.  
“Certainly, in our business, part of that is down to the… management team structure that we have and giving people that ownership and accountability throughout the business to deal with the day-to-day, so that at a senior level we are very focused on long-term strategy.” 
Chet Patel, Global Commercial and Transformation Officer at BT, comments that leaders are required to conduct a balancing act. “With my management team, I am really clear that I expect them to do two roles: I need them to operate the business and deliver to our customers and our employees and deliver the short-term returns,” he says.  
“[Secondly], and this is just as important, I need them to think: What next? How do we need to evolve as an organisation? What capabilities do we need to improve? What processes can we improve? What’s the next business model going to be? How can we disrupt ourselves? It’s having that mentality… as a leader and carving out the time to do both things.” 
Sense of Perspective  
When asked where their most senior colleagues needed to improve, chief executives said that both non-executive directors and human resource directors should focus on strategic thinking. The research also found that for chief finance officers, the area to brush up on was people and communication skills, closely followed – once again – by strategic thinking.  
Julian Goldsmith, Senior Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, comments: “Many executives are caught between two stalls. They know they need to prioritise strategy and yet they are under intense pressure to deliver short-term results and firefight operational performance issues. 
“It really does fall on the shoulders of the Chief Executive and, ultimately, the whole Board, to ensure that time is taken to have full and challenging strategic discussions. It can’t be a box-ticking exercise and it certainly can’t be ignored. Failing to have a long-term view, with set decisions and outcomes, will only mean those operational challenges escalate and a vicious circle occurs.”  
Mark adds: “Sometimes management teams become too tactical and within the organisation you focus too much on the monthly results, on the operations, and don’t think clearly enough about where the organisation is heading or the strategic imperatives.

“I think it’s a question of getting the balance between the two and if you can achieve that, then you achieve better alignment for the business as a whole.”  
If the discussion around strategy is to be more meaningful, then it’s increasingly important to have a mix of viewpoints. Jane Griffiths, Global Head of Actelion Pharmaceuticals, comments: “The more diversity you have, the more perspective you have when dealing with difficult issues in a team or when you’re driving towards a challenging goal.” 
For Jane, if businesses are to be successful, then good leadership means building teams that work together on the short, medium and long-term opportunities. “It truly has to be a spirit of collaboration and accepting that everybody has something positive to give a team,” she says.    
To read the full research report, click here
These comments were taken from the following Criticaleye films: