Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, explains how he developed an aspirational strategy and brought the Tour de France to the region – widely recognised as the most successful Grand Départ ever staged.

Sir Gary VerityWhitecap’s How to create and deliver an agile strategy looks at one of the biggest challenges for a business –  the ‘incremental strategy trap’. This is when companies fall into a pattern of chasing year-on-year growth or other simple targets without stepping back and looking at the future with fresh eyes.  What do we really want to achieve here?

When I took charge of what was the Yorkshire Tourist Board this was one of the issues we were facing.

If we were going to become a top visitor attraction, did we need to do a bit more of the same or raise the bar significantly? And, if so, how we would we do that?

Here I share my thoughts on how we went about creating a strategy that was a game changer for both our organisation and every business and individual in Yorkshire.

Understanding the culture of your organisation

I started out by meeting every member of our 40-strong team and asked everyone the same three questions: what’s the population of Yorkshire, who’s our most important customer and how can I help you?

I wanted to understand the culture of the organisation and thought this process would help me understand that. I expected that after I had asked the same questions to a dozen people, word would have quickly spread and towards the end, those questioned would at least know the population of Yorkshire.

However, the population answers varied between 180,000 and 17 million (it is five million). This quickly revealed there was little in the way of team-working.

Creating a vision for your organisation

After quizzing the whole team individually, I then asked everyone to research who they thought was the best tourist organisation in the world. Florida and Singapore were mentioned, but no-one was able to say this is the best tourist organisation on the planet.

I believed that was our opportunity. We started by deciding what world-best looks like and set ourselves clear benchmarks, with the ultimate aim to make Yorkshire one of the world’s top visitor attractions.

Taking people on the journey

It was a really ambitious target and it quickly became clear that we would need a major event for Yorkshire that would be a game changer. After some thought, we decided on our goal – win the Tour de France Grand Depart.

The vision we’d created for the organisation was important, but we also needed to develop a strategy of how we went about it. Values and our style were absolutely critical – this was a long game and we needed to bring people with us, listen and respect views.  We want customers for life.

It’s no secret that most people want to work for a very successful organisation so we set the vision and then asked our team: “Who wants to come on this journey with us?”  I knew it wouldn’t be for everyone, so I made it clear what lay ahead from the start.

Remained focussed on your goal

The hardest part of setting and achieving our strategy was bandwith. We’re a small organisation and we had to be realistic about what we could achieve. We did not have the capacity to realise all of our ambitions so we had to stay focused and not get dragged down by peripheral ‘noise’.

Our strategy was all about having a big picture, getting everyone in the team behind it and keeping things very simple.

I was delighted to contribute to Whitecap’s How to create and deliver an agile strategy . You can download it here and read stories from other business leaders and Whitecap’s nine steps to overcome the strategy-execution gap.

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