Strategic Decision Making | The Window of Opportunities Tool
August 1, 2018
August can be a time for rest and recuperation. But as well as acting as a recharge, August provides an opportunity to carve out time to think deeply about your company’s direction of travel. With many clients and colleagues on holiday and busyness, hopefully, at a lull, August is a blank cheque for doing strategy.
To help you make the most of your August thinking time, I’m want to share an incredibly practical, step-by-step philosophical process I use to make tricky strategic decisions called the Window of Opportunities. This tool features in the Lateral Thinking Workshops I deliver for Philosophy at Work. It is philosophical because it is values-driven and makes you confront assumptions about what it means to do ‘good’ business. It is effective because it turns the normal, binary approach to decisions on its head.
How the tool benefits decisions
It is normal to frame decisions in your mind as a binary, either/or choice: ‘Should we move our offices to Manchester, or should we stay in London’s silicon roundabout?’. Or, if the decision is slightly more complex, and we think multiple options are open to us, the framing used may not be binary, but it is still laregly shaped by the options one takes to have open to them: ‘Should we move our offices to Manchester, should we stay in London’s silicon roundabout, should we set up shop in Reading, or should we close things down in the UK and relocate to Lisbon?’.
The problem with this common approach is that it is passive and limits our consideration to the choices you already take to be before you: London, Manchester, Reading or Lisbon. When you are making decisions and doing strategy, the last thing you want to do is cultivate a position of passivity and self-made limitations.
To counteract passivity and produce more expansive strategic decision making, I developed The Window of Opportunities. It is a simple, process-driven approach to doing strategy that will help you get your thinking down on paper and bring clarity to your decisions.
How to use the Window of Opportunities tool
Step 1: Flip Your Focus
Instead of framing your decision in terms of options, begin by framing it in terms of your desired outcomes. Returning to the example above, rather than focusing on a decision between London, Manchester, Reading and Lisbon, zero in on your desired aims for the business: Perhaps, to: cut real-estate costs; retain a presence in the key scenes of my industry; and be ableto attract desirable employees.
These desired outcomes are important metrics for your decision making. They articulate what you want to get out of the decision. In my experience, this first step can be challenging, but it is so valuable. Making yourself consider what you really want to get out of your strategy tends to bring significant amounts of clarity.
If you do your homework at this first step, you might not even need to go on to Step 2 and Step 3 – but I would encourage you to continue, because those later steps are where the tool gets really creative and satisfying.
Step 2: Translate Your Aims Into Metrics
With your aims clarified, the next step is to translate those aims into terms that you can use to test the quality of individual choices or business development opportunities. These translations will provide binary sets of metrics enabling you to get strategic decisions out of your head and onto paper. This move is hugely beneficial as it helps you see the quality of potential decisions more clearly.
For example, if one of your aims is to ‘cut real-estate costs’, you might translate that into a binary metric of ‘cheap or expensive’. The desired aim of ‘retaining presence in the key scenes of my industry’ becomes ‘Connected or Isolated’. And ‘able to attract desirable employees’ is ‘Attractive or Unattractive’. These sets of terms are the metrics you will use to help make your decision.
Step 3: Construct Your Window of Opportunities
Having translated your aims into metrics, the next step is to put those metrics to work on your strategic decision. To do this, draw a window where each pane is divided by a set of terms/metrics. If you are working with to main aims that have been translated into two sets of metrics, your window might look like Image 1.
Equally, if three aims matter to your decision (as in my example about moving offices above), your window can be divided up as in Image 2.
Step 4: Plot Your Strategic Options On The Window
Now you’re ready to plot where each relevant choice you are considering lands on your Window of Opportunities. This is a seemingly easy task, but one which often illuminates valuable insights. For example, in my decision about where to relocate offices, where should I place the option of retaining offices in London? That city is certainly an expensive choice, but given the current threat of Brexit, is it a ‘connected’ and ‘attractive’ option?
The realisation of these questions is valuable because it means I have struck on a feature of my strategic decision making that needs more research (and in the case of Brexit, perhaps a crystal ball!). What it tells me is that if cost, connection and attractiveness are important to me, then I may need to gather further information about Brexit before I can move forward.
This is helpful because I am no longer left on the fence wringing my hands about whether to choose London or Lisbon. Instead, the immediate task before me is research-based and insight driven rather than being about choice. This insight does not make my decision any easier, but it does give me something to work with. I need never flip coins. I need only understand my true aims, employ the window of opportunities and carry out research when I realise I do not yet have sufficient information to allow me to plot a choice on the window.
Step 5: Reflect & Act
As you were plotting your options in the window, you might have noticed that whole regions of the window, regions made up of value metrics you really care about, have no options in them. This is an incredibly helpful discovery. It shows that the options you thought you had to decide between are, in fact, not the options you should be deciding between. Instead, you should go back out, armed with your strategic aims, and identify options for action that would fit comfortably in those regions of the window.
As you reflect on the Window of Opportunities you have just created, you might also find some limitations in the aims and metrics used. This can also be a valuable realisation. It just means you need to go back to your aims and clarify exactly what it is you would like to achieve in this next period of work. Clarifying aims can be challenging, but it is well worth the investment of time and mental bandwidth. Without being clear about your desired destination, executing your organisation’s direction of travel will be haphazard.
The Window of Opportunities tool provides you with a systematic process for making strategic decisions. It will not make decisions for you, but it will help you clarify your thinking and identify potential choices you might not have previously considered. I wish you much rest and many wise, strategic decisions this August!
If you found this tool helpful and want more from Philosophy at Work, drop us a line. We love working with companies who are navigating complexity and bringing about positive change.