29th Sep 2021

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

Is there a better way to do both?

If we posit that most trustee boards meet once each quarter, it means they are likely to be spending about 16 focused hours each year managing their scheme – about 2 working days. That’s not a lot of time. Of course, things happen outside meetings, but it is when the trustees are all together, usually with their advisers, that key decisions are made. During those meetings, it’s common to work through the same old agenda, and trustees can get dragged into ‘sweating the small stuff’ to deliver on quick objectives and relieve short-term pressures, when in fact most of their attention should be on the big stuff – scheme strategy.

Moving forward without a clear strategy is a bit like driving blind – you can only see a short distance ahead, and when you get there, you might have gone in the wrong direction. What’s more, you don’t know when you will arrive, or whether you might need to take detours along the way.

Short-term pressures limit our ability to focus and think

We have been delivering structured strategic planning away-days to help trustees focus on where the scheme is now and where it ultimately wants to be. Carving out this time to plan for the future allows boards to pause and think outside their normal meeting cycle to agree the necessary steps and frameworks to reach their end goals. It can be difficult to do, but articulating a clear strategy often starts with ‘tearing up’ the standard agenda and spending time together where there is only one subject – strategy. Meet somewhere different, in person if possible, and certainly outside of the office to avoid distractions.

All key stakeholders should attend – trustees, advisers, and a representative of the sponsor – but not necessarily all together for all of the time. The trustees need time on their own for a full and frank conversation, allocating specific parts of the meeting for the advisers and sponsor.  A well-executed away-day creates the space trustees need to form a clear view, engage with other stakeholders, and agree a way forward.

Structure makes an away-day impactful

20-20 Trustees have developed a strategic planning day with six sessions and clearly defined actions.

We start the day ‘big’ – thinking about the main objective, how to get there, and over what time frame, acknowledging that progress doesn’t happen in a straight line. We then define how to measure progress and what actions to take when things are ahead or behind the plan. And finally, we set and agree intermediate objectives and milestones.

With these items defined and agreed, the agenda items going forward fall into place – if an item doesn’t support the plan then it shouldn’t be on the agenda.  Pragmatic.  Focused.


Dedicating time for strategic planning supports the direction of travel by The Pensions Regulator as they express expectations for schemes to set a long-term funding objective and enhance levels of governance. We have put considerable thought into how to create and deliver sessions that ensure value-for-money and time – both precious commodities.

The feedback received so far has been positive. Trustees and sponsors appreciate not only our experience in these matters, but they also recognise the value of having a third party on board that can see the bigger picture without being influenced by politics and personalities. Trustees express their appreciation for having this time to think and plan.