CEOs and Entrepreneurs Can’t “Own” Strategy: Implementing a Collaborative Approach

I sat down with three business leaders last week to interview them about how they handle strategy. I started the session by asking, “Who owns your company’s strategy?” All three replied they did. My experience tells me that is not the best answer.

The CEO or leader can and should own the vision of the company’s present and future — where the company is going. But in my opinion, they are not the best one(s) to own how the company gets there — in other words, strategy. When it comes to strategy, companies benefit when the leader holds the reins loosely and lets it have a life of its own.

The leader’s role is to set the vision and direction of the company and really, no one can do that but the leader. In general, the leader, especially if an entrepreneur, is a dreamer by nature. This also means that, generally speaking, planning is not their strong suit.

Creating a bucket of actionable ideas

Ideally, the leader lays out a vision of the future through writing a detailed Painted Picture or Vivid Vision three to five years out (see books by Cameron Herold). When it comes to planning strategy, the CEO’s vision is then shared with all key team members and leadership at a time and place away from the grind of day-to-day work, what we refer to as an “offsite.”

The team then brainstorms what will have to happen to make that vision a reality. This is most successful with someone other than the leader facilitating, as they are impartial to the content.

Everyone’s ideas are written on individual Post-its which are put on the walls. The team then votes on the ideas that move the company closest to the vision with the least amount of effort and time involved. The ideas with the most votes become the goals, initiatives and action items for the company strategy for the next year, broken down into bite-size pieces. 

For perspective, my company currently has six annual goals, six half-year initiatives, and 16 action items we are working through. Ideas that don’t rank are put in a “parking lot” for consideration at the next strategy or brainstorming session. The outcome of this exercise is a big bucket of ideas to implement, plus a selection of the best ideas to implement immediately.

This group collaborative approach requires a leap of faith from the leader, who lets go of some control, but I’ve found it produces the best ideas from the most perspectives.

Share strategy but assign execution

Voting usually leads to implementing the best ideas first; more importantly, the team feels like their thoughts and input are valued. In turn, they support the implementation of these goals wholeheartedly as they gave their input and agreed to the outcome.

Ideally, these results are illustrated on a One-Page Strategic Plan (see books by Verne Harnish). Plans longer than one page become difficult to execute and maintain employee focus on. One person should be designated the “Strategy Shepherd” or keeper of the plan; this person maintains the strategy and ideas and keeps things moving along. It often works best to make this “shepherd” the facilitator of the strategy sessions. (In my organization, both roles are expertly performed by our Culture, Strategy and Recruiting person.)

The final step is to assign the agreed-on initiatives, goals and action items to a lead who is responsible for executing that item. This spreads the strategic work around and involves the necessary parties rather than solely burdening the CEO. The plan is reviewed in a biweekly huddle, where the leads report to the group on their progress, forcing accountability and at the same time boosting morale by letting the team see the forward progress on the company reaching its goals.

Your vision will come to life

This approach took our company about ten years to evolve, but since then we have seen huge success in achieving our visions and reaching our goals through well-defined strategy. As a CEO, entrepreneur or business leader, you can improve your achievement rate by recalibrating to view vision as a “me” thing and strategy as a “we” thing.

Contributed to EO by Barry Raber, a 22-year EO member in Portland. Barry is a serial entrepreneur, president of Carefree RV Storage, the founder of Business Property Trust, and EO Portland‘s Entrepreneur of the Year. He shares his successful business secrets at

This post originally appeared on the Portland Business Journal and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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Categories: Best Practices PEOPLE/STAFF STRATEGY


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