Getting to “Where You Are Today”


By: Dawn A. Sutherland, MBA, CPF


Where is St. Helena Island?  Do you know?  What if I told you that Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there?  Does that help?  Not really.  What if you must travel from St. Helena to Greenland and arrive by tomorrow afternoon.  What’s the best way to get?

When I’m facilitating strategic planning with executives, I often begin the session with this opener.  By the time I’ve reached the final question, someone has invariably interrupted with the observation, “How could we possibly know the best method of transport when we don’t even know where we’re starting from?”  Exactly!

So, why is it that when it’s time to formulate strategic plans, we hastily leap to setting Objectives (getting to Greenland by tomorrow afternoon), formulating Strategies (we’ll take a plane), and devising Tactics (we’ll leave tomorrow morning) … all without knowing our starting point.

This observation is the focus of Leadership Strategies’ Market-Insight Facilitation practice.  There are 4 components of a strategic plan. 1) Where are we today? 2) Where do we want to be? 3) How do we get there?  4) How are we progressing? (the monitoring phase).  “Where are we today?” is clearly essential, yet frequently, the most over-looked.  Our research and business experience over 20+ years, across hundreds of clients, in many different sectors, in various parts of the world, all point to four critical factors in determining “Where are we today?”

1)    Getting at the blind spot

2)    Getting the “right” data.

3)    Making sure each analysis results in “insights”.

4)    Getting the job done effectively and efficiently.

The Blind Spot:

Getting at the “Don’t know / don’t know may involve:

  • Gathering additional external information (industry, external stakeholders, competitors, customers, market analytics) using primary or secondary sources
  • Gathering additional internal information (financial and other business analytics, internal stakeholders’ views)

However, 80% of the time, organizations simply need to look at their existing information and knowledge from a new perspective or with greater depth.

The “Right” Data:

For some individuals, gathering the “right” data means gathering “all” possible data.  That’s a slippery slope that can lead to “analysis paralysis”.  What you need is the right type of data, and just enough of it, to move you down the continuum towards “insights.”  Just be sure that the data is “need to know” rather than just “nice to know” so they can be translated into information, and then knowledge .

The Importance of “Insights”:

Each analysis must lead to one or several insights.  An insight is a deep or clear understanding of a situation.  Often we see analysis stop at the “knowledge” stage.  Without the additional step (insights), which answers the question, “What does this analysis tell us about (our customers, the market, the future of the industry …)” the most valuable part of the exercise is lost.

These insights are the fundamental building blocks for the rest of the Drivers Model.  They will help you formulate your Strategic Intent, Goals, Objectives and Strategies.  Without these insights to ground you in reality, the rest of your plan may become a wish list of top-of-mind ideas that won’t drive to business success.  A further danger is that the team may inadvertently be subscribing to industry or company orthodoxies – clearly, not a winning recipe for “how to win” in the marketplace.

The Best Practice Method for Getting it All Done:

Traditional thinking suggests two ways to complete the “Where are we today” analyses and glean insights – essentially end points of a spectrum.

Large Consulting Firms (“We’ll do it for you”)


  • Frees internal resources (people)
  • Industry expertise
  • Strategic Planning expertise


  • Low involvement by most stakeholders, except a select few
  • Risk – lack of follow through
  • Low knowledge of client/company
  • Some key insights may be missed

D-I-Y (“Do-it-yourself”)


  • Intimate knowledge of company
  • Industry expertise


  • High risk of subscribing to industry and company orthodoxies
  • Demanding on internal resources (people, time required)
  • Often not sufficient expertise: Which are the best analyses to use; How to engage the key stakeholder; How to facilitate the process
    • The above points can lead to:
      • Missing insights
      • Low quality
  • Very surprisingly, clients report low engagement levels with the DIY method, mainly due to expertise

Leadership Strategies Proposes an Alternative: Market-Insight Facilitation:

Leadership Strategies’ approach is the perfect balance between the extremes.  Through the combined use of expert facilitation skills and expert strategic planning techniques, we leverage the knowledge and expertise of the team, and we use their time effectively and efficiently.  Teams report superior levels of satisfaction and are highly engaged in the process.

The Drivers Model is the flagship strategic planning model of Leadership Strategies.  Purchase your copy of The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy (featuring the Drivers Model) by Michael A. Wilkinson, CEO, Leadership Strategies Inc.

Leadership Strategies has rapidly become a leader in facilitation services in the USA and beyond.  We provide companies with dynamic professional facilitators who facilitate executive teams and task forces in areas such as strategic planning, issue resolution, requirements analysis, process improvement and conference forums. Our facilitators are experts in the Principles of Facilitation, a comprehensive approach for facilitating any session and providing a consistent level of quality and effectiveness in our work.