I have just worked through the essentials of the Strategic Business Forum with Harris. A Strategic Business Forum (SBF) is not a board, a stakeholders meeting or a think tank. Though it may appear to have similarities to all those institutions, the SBF has a core focus and specific purpose – to chart out a strategic path for businesses within a market. Those businesses may a) be facing a specific challenge within a market, b) wish to benefit from perspectives of other businesses under the same market conditions. c) SBFs can also be used to create industry direction and focus for the greater good (i.e. corporate success and survival rather than individual success). The motivation for participating in an SBF is in engineering the greater good rather than financial success.
The SBF is made up of entrepreneurs in the same market, but not the same industry who gather together to analyze and interpret global and macro environmental trends that affect and impact the operations of their individual business(sectors) and try to determine a strategic framework that will ensure the survival and success of the (represented businesses) into the future.
SBFs ask themselves several key questions that result in a strategic development framework for a business to craft a plan for its future survival and success;
1. How have we survived so far? What have we done right in our businesses, what have we learned to do, what systems structures have we put in place that have enabled us to survive. (Do we have good products; do we have competitive systems, people, or just opportunities? Or are we just favored by fate?...)
2. What are the global trends that could lead to the butterfly effect and impact us directly as a market?
3. What are the current macro Social, Economic and Environmental (SEE) conditions that have immediate short or medium term impact on our operations as a business in this market?
4. Given the global trends and macro market conditions, what are the best and worst case scenarios that could emerge the medium term given these conditions.
5. Given all the above; how can we position our businesses for survival and success in the prevailing environment and future environment. How can we proactively influence that future environment by creating models, designs and concepts that will mitigate the adverse effects of that future and advance positive survival in that environment.
6. Finally, what strategic operational framework will enable businesses represented in the SBF to succeed and excel in future, by implementing those principles today?
From the outcomes of the six discussion guidelines above it should be clear that this forum cannot go on forever, unless it turns into a think tank with an unlimited range. It should also be clear that this discussion can be held without individual businesses fearing loss of their trade secrets to competitors and simply draws on the master mind that drives business in the market. Neither does the SBF guarantee specific outcomes. All the SBF does is to benefit from the multiple perspectives of common challenges faced by entrepreneurs within a market, industry, sub-sector, street or building. Nevertheless, it does give instrumental direction to (business) communities within a market, industry or social interest groups.
The objectives of an SBF can be achieved in one meeting or in three or four meetings spread out over a few months. SBF members need to maintain the flexibility to engage and pursue their own business interest in order to generate value at the forum. However, since SBFs are not boards they can be “banded” and “disbanded” without any feelings of disloyalty. Indeed. If SBFs stay together for too long or meet too frequently they will begin to develop “constructive” rather than “disruptive” thinking and become convergent thinkers that will no longer benefit from divergence of their experience.
The SBFs harness concrete business sense and because the wisdom generated at the forum is from real players (entrepreneurs) and not market observers. Nonetheless, SBFs can benefit from perceptive consultants who can trigger insight on wider and “bigger” picture issues and complex considerations - You cannot see the full picture when you are in the frame.
The SBF does not develop micro-operational plans for businesses, but it does provide food for individual business boards and senior managers to create specific action plans and policy framework to ensure the future survival of the business in the short to medium term. This means boards and senior management teams must ask themselves the transformational 7th question – How does all of this apply to us and what are we going to do about it?
The SBF is a powerful market intelligence instrument and can serve to raise the success levels of businesses present by enabling entrepreneurs and senior managers to take strategic decisions with respect to market trends. Indeed effective SBFs in a given market can also influence the short and medium term direction of that market. The other benefits of SBFs include the development of strategic and problem solving industry skills and market mechanisms.
Finally, the selection of persons making up an SBF is of great import in terms of the nature, quality and outcomes of the forum. The selection should be careful to harness diversity of thought experience, exposure, education and expertise. Nonetheless, this forum will benefit more from entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial mindset than seasoned leaders, managers or administrators. The process skill sets of an SBF are more or less the same as those of an effective brainstorming exercise documenting specific outcomes under each key question. An SBF can create a sound foundation for transformative action, a movement, community action or social commitment program.
Allan Bukusi is a leadership consultant and the author of the following eBooks