The Project – “what does it take to be a leading retailer in the next 5-8 years?”
A leading FTSE energy company was looking for a Financial Analyst for a two-month period to map out a financial view for its 10-year strategy roadmap, focused on its go-to-market strategy.
The project began by defining a commonly agreed strategic view on what it takes to be a leading player in 5-8 years, but also to formulate a position on an “as-is analysis”, of where the company stood today in terms of their capabilities. As a combination, this work enabled the project team to develop a “technology roadmap”, a headline investment required, and a phased target operating model to pursue.The Remit – bringing in financial rigour to support and test strategic hypothesis
The team reached out to BIE who placed an experienced financial analysis and modelling expert to hold the pen on the financial rigour and necessary financial analysis. He was supported by members of the company’s internal finance team with relevant data.
As with projects across sectors, BIE was also ready to provide specific subject matter experts for interviews, to help develop and stress test the above strategic hypothesis. As an example, BIE has a strong bench of expertise available for subject matter interviews, not only for industry specific questions (such as energy), but also for generic operational benchmarking, such as those related to customer care centres, outsourcing, technology implementation, and corporate & business unit level strategy.
The Process – cultivating diversity, accessing best talent, and repurposing investment to value-add areas
This was a unique placement as the entire team operated (primarily) remotely - the financial analysts, alongside a Strategy Project Lead & Facilitator, and the cross-functional internal team. This was underpinned by the company’s desire to place two key priorities in its strategy project team construction:
1) Obtain the best talent possible, and
2) Construct a team with diversity able to robustly address a cross-geographical and functional expertise and their implications.
In practise, pulling together a virtual team meant the company was able to pull the resource together rapidly, within a couple of weeks. The company also saved notably in total project costs, such as with T&E compared to standard projects (as no hotel and other non-value expenses were occurred). These costs were in turn repurposed to more value-add areas, such as gaining access to specific subject matter expertise, and to gain a robust 3rd party opinion on current technological capability vs. market. For the Financial Analyst, this meant the whole process, from interview through to the end of contract, all communication was conducted with ease via technology solutions.
The project team was made up of a core team of eight. This diverse team included skillsets across Strategy, Finance, Commercial, Energy Hedging, HR and Technology. As a Strategy Project, the task was led by a specialist strategy consultant, facilitating the project end-to-end, but with a core internal team owning the key functional outputs (five FTE), supported by two 3rd party experts where the existing team had a resource constrains (finance and technology), plus general support given by a graduate trainee.
In addition, the project team interviewed and involved circa. 20 internal subject matter experts in carefully planned ‘short bursts’, enabling these extended team members to bring in their expertise and input, yet not disturbing their day-to-day responsibilities, or burdening them with an end-to-end strategy project for which they do not have a toolkit, or experience, to tackle.
The 3rd party support for this project came from Simon Cordrey, Executive Director at BIE. His portfolio of long-standing relationships across a broad expert network – and in this case the Client, the Strategy Lead, as well as the Financial Analyst – ensured minimum risk in putting together a team in a very rapid timeline. The core team was conceptualised over the Christmas holidays and was live on 6th January. Simon’s long-standing relationships with all involved, his attention to and knowledge of specific stakeholder preferences, working styles, and approach, together with BIE’s robust admin support, allowed the team to be up and running and producing their first draft by mid-January.
The financial analyst placed into the project said: “Simon always places me in good businesses, and I trust his judgement of people and roles. For this set-up to be successful, you need to be able to trust other people’s judgement as well as your own. With this in mind, before the Strategy lead and I had even spoken, we were already confident we could work well together as we both had trust and confidence in Simon.”
Remote Working – how did it work in practice?
The project went smoothly, and communication was good, which the Financial Analyst attests to the way the Strategy Lead approached remote team co-ordination and planning. She was the direct link with the client, MD of the division.
A clear structure for the team’s day was important, and in a remote setting this is even more important, alongside focus on communication style. These two are particularly true in work such as strategy development where progress is reiterative - there are many contributing parts to the overall narrative, interconnected elements move at different speeds, and team are tackling questions which have high implications to a wide set of stakeholders with more than one right answer. Secondly, in hypothesis led strategy development, as was the case here, the hypothesis is either proven or disproven, and hence the activity for the team continually adjusts. The team need to be highly agile and ready to make pivots along the way.
In practise this meant the mornings opened with a short team call to cover key progress areas. Everyone came in to the call fully prepared to share their progress, and ready to discuss key questions they needed to open up to the team. This structure enabled the core project team to keep things on track, maintain momentum, and most importantly, share work with the Client reiteratively with no “grand reveal at the end”. As a combination, it gave every team member agency over their work and, in turn, was effective in building trust and accountability.
The team’s core tools were Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and shared screens.
Benefits – client lens
With no “grand reveal at the end”, the Client was able to share the developing hypothesis with the Company Board in several one-to-one socialisation meetings, in the run up to the scheduled Board meeting. At aggregate, this meant the executive stakeholder set felt consulted, they saw their feedback being taken in, and the end result was a clear collective agreement on the strategic direction of travel.
The Client was also able to resource the team with maximum amount of internal team members, enabling them to bring in their expertise, ensuring the Roadmap was internally owned & endorsed, and with career development opportunities shared across 2-3 layers below the MD.
The client was also able to use the external experts to efficiently fill in expertise gaps, and importantly, transfer toolkits in a practical way to the core team. In practise, this meant the team below the MD came away from the project with an up-to-date strategy toolkit for various scenarios, updated approach to their five-year financial planning, and a much clearer collective view on how the team capability compared to the market in technology capability. Most importantly, the team collectively formed an understanding of the implications of choices being made, and what areas were likely to lead to the biggest impact and competitive advantage.
Benefits – remote working lens
The Financial Analyst says: “Some people will always prefer face-to-face communication, but by working this way there is an opportunity to breakdown inherent biases that we all have and can potentially affect our decision making. If you’re not physically in the room with someone, you can strip those away and get to the point faster.”
The Financial Analyst sees a broader scope for the value that flexible working offers – from both the employee and employer perspective. He has a business, in addition to his contract work, that employs ten people, and everyone works remotely.
Matt says: “It’s a real opportunity to rethink how businesses operate. For example, through flexible and remote working businesses can potentially save on traditional long term lease commitments. Perhaps only necessitating a smaller business space people can come to a few times a week or month. It results in everyone collaborating cohesively through more regular meaningful discussion. Other benefits I believe are greater time efficiencies, overall staff engagement, better retention (work-life balance), and ultimately output. There are many benefits for both sides.”
When considering inevitable challenges, The Financial Analyst pointed out that technical issues do exist, such as poor internet connections, but these do not happen all that often and can be remedied.
On project work there is often apprehension from employees who are not involved in the project. However, when you approach the work with a good balance of internal resource and an approach without a “grand reveal at the end”, there is an opportunity to loop in key stakeholders and have their voices heard. Strategy is never made with a large committee, but the end-result is more robust when different aspects are brought in to the strategy room.
Results – clear management view on strategy 2030
The project had a hard deadline, and this was successfully met on time and on budget. Subsequently the Strategy Roadmap received good feedback from the Plc Board. The internal team now owns the key pillars and are leading the key activity which is incorporated to the company’s five-year plan.
What’s next for you?
If you are interested in exploring how to run your next strategy project, and/or on how to maximise remote working in this context - please connect with Simon Cordrey who can provide further detail, and/or access to the Strategy Lead who led this remote & agile Strategy Project. We are happy to shape your plans together with you – no obligation.
If you are interested in exploring how to use subject matter experts (interviews or panels) to develop or stress test your current or developing Roadmap, please also connect with Simon Cordrey whose trusted network of experts across Finance, Transformation, Strategy and industry specific areas can translate your “inside view” into a Roadmap ready for the Board.