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Facilitation Approach to Winning Strategy

Jack Welch presents an interesting perspective on strategy formulation in his 2005 book “Winning” by Jack Welch and Suzy Welch. We have had several clients contact us about strategy sessions who wanted to use this approach. The following describes the basis of Jack Welch’s approach and describes a high level approach to facilitating a strategy session using the approach.

What is strategy?

In the book Welch argues that strategy is all about resource allocation. It is about making clear-cut choices about how you are going to compete. He says that strategy involves three steps:

  1. First come up with a big “aha” for your business about a smart sustainable way to gain a competitive advantage
  2. Then put the right people in the right jobs to drive it forward
  3. While you are doing this relentlessly seek out best practices wherever you can, that can be adapted, improved and adopted

The Five Slide Approach

To come up with a sustainable competitive advantage Welch uses an approach that he calls the “five slide” approach. It involves working a small group of the most senior executives of the organization through a series of five discussions. Each discussion has a distinct focus as follows:

  1. What does the competitive playing field look like today?
  2. What has the competition been up to?
  3. What have you been up to?
  4. What is lurking around the corner?
  5. What is your winning move?

Each of the discussions has a set of underlying questions that fit on a single slide, hence the name.

Facilitating the Five Slide Approach

Our plan for facilitating with this approach involves the following steps.

  1. Developing a customized interview guide based on the five slides and the underlying question.
  2. Conducting in-depth interviews with senior executives and other key personnel within the company and preparing a summary report of the results.
  3. Facilitating an off-site meeting to work through the five discussions. This involves both working with the interview summary results and addressing additional questions within the room.
  4. Preparing a final report based on the results of the off-site session.

One of the keys to success of an approach like this will be the selection of the methods to be used at the off-site meeting. The methods employed need to make sure that everyone’s input is heard and that a healthy debate ensues which will result in the group making decisions based on the best available information.

For example when discussing the question of where a particular product is on the growth curve we propose putting a growth curve on the wall and having the participants individually mark where they believe the product to be. This way the entire room can see how much agreement there is to start with, and can then engage in a discussion of the differences. If appropriate we can mark the curve a second time after people have listened to one another’s perspectives. Finally we can mark the curve with a “group opinion”. (If the group is so far apart that there is no “group opinion” we can agree on whatever next steps are needed and move on to the next part of the agenda.)

As another example, one of the interview questions will address various competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. Rather than just list these we will use a multivote during the off-site to priority rank the various strengths and weaknesses. Once again the room can see where everyone else is coming from and can engage in a focused discussion of the differences. (An example of a multivote would be to ask the participants to individually pick the top three out of a list of ten strengths for a particular competitor. They do not have to rank these from 1st to 3rd. By simply adding up the number of “top three” votes that each competitor received we can quickly see what people considered to be the biggest strengths.)


Winning, by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch, ©Harper Collins 2005

Note: We are not associated with Jack or Suzy Welch in any way