Last week I met with a strategy leader for an Australian financial services organization, who was trying to work out how to bring his executive team together on a regular cadence to align around strategy. He’d built a great Kanban board to visualize the large strategic projects the organization was pursuing -- sort of an executive-level roadmap -- and wanted some ideas for how to bring execs together around it.
In my role I spend a lot of time promoting a quarterly, one-day, Agile business steering meeting that brings leaders together to align on strategic priorities and harmonize their quarterly tactics. I think that such a meeting really is the heartbeat of business agility at scale. But once you’re aligned around your intentions for the quarter, how do you steer within the quarter?
I recommend thinking about three cadences. These include:
- A weekly, extended management “impediments” meeting
- A weekly executive staff meeting
- A bi-monthly metrics meeting
1. Weekly Extended Management Impediments Meeting
This Scrum of Scrums (SoS) is a short standup meeting involving your extended management team, usually 20-40 people depending on your organization’s size. The purpose of this meeting is to bring junior and senior executives together across departments to raise and resolve impediments encountered on any top priorities.
This is not a status meeting, and indeed, if you have any meeting reporting red / yellow / green status on your tactical initiatives, cancel it right now; you’re wasting time. Initiatives are often green until they’re suddenly red, and by then it’s too late to do anything. Huge amounts of waste goes into producing beautiful status reports that obscure what’s actually going on.
We run the SoS meeting standing in two concentric circles. The inner circle (close to the conference table) is for anyone with important news or significant impediments that they need help with; they’re the ones who speak. The outer circle (against the wall) is for everyone else: they only listen, unless they want to offer help with an impediment. This meeting often lasts just a few minutes, and never more than 30. The group leaves when the inner circle is done and all impediments have been managed.
an example of an executive meeting format with concentric circles
It can help to track the readouts from this meeting on a simple impediments board, logging recent results, issues, and actions, so that when people walk into the meeting they can quickly recall the context of the last meeting without taking up meeting time.
Just like team-level Scrum, a meeting like this needs a facilitative leader who can keep people focused, handle distractions, and help the group move to action. But at this level, your facilitator needs to be comfortable interrupting senior executives who are rambling. This requires a tricky balance. It can help to ask the group explicitly, “Do I have your permission to facilitate so we can get to results quickly?”
2. Weekly Executive Staff Meeting
It usually makes sense to hold the SoS meeting just before your standing (closed) executive staff meeting, because it gives your senior leadership team the pulse of the issues before doing a deeper dive on their own work. If you’re doing a meeting like this, keep it. If you’re not doing it, start one.
3. Bi-monthly Metrics Meeting
This meeting is a deep dive on key metrics for the business, and may last 1-2 hours. It usually begins with key financial results (revenue, cash flow, and whatever other macro business results make sense for your organization.) Then it dives deeper into your business improvement metrics.
If you’re doing strategy deployment well, you have tactics for improving your business results and leading indicators that tell you whether you’re making progress towards achieving your results. If you’re using a balanced scorecard, all this should be sounding familiar.
On a regular two- or four-week cadence, your senior leaders should be able to dive deeply into these leading indicators so you can sense whether you need to steer your tactics. If you expected your pipeline to be twice as big in the current quarter, or if you’re seeing a growing backlog in a specific part of your business, you can take action to adapt in the coming business steering meeting. The metrics cadence gives you time to get ahead of this work, so you can steer tactically during your quarterly meeting.
Bringing It All Together
The quarterly meeting is essential to building alignment at this level; once you’re doing it, these three regular meetings enable to you to steer and deliver on your tactical plans.
What’s the heartbeat of business agility for your organization?
Learn more about business agility: why you need it, and how to get it. Find out more about how good meetings help you take the pulse of your organization.