Entries in Vision (4)
How to Magnify the Impact of Your Visioning and Strategy Development Sessions with One Little Pre-step
- Suspend their judgments and their “certainties”
- Respectfully explore others’ assumptions through questions
- Disclose their key assumptions and how they arrived at them
- Respect foreign-sounding points of view
- Ask questions they don’t have answers for, and be prepared to be surprised and learn something they hadn’t known before.
A few years back Walter Kiechel of Fortune magazine conducted a poll of consultants. They reported that less than 10% of strategies associated with traditional strategic planning methods are successfully implemented. When Tom Peters, an ex-McKinsey consultant, heard this number he called it “wildly inflated.”
But perhaps the polled consultants and Tom Peters’ samples were biased (because boy, they sure seem low!). So let’s turn our attention to Henry Mintzberg, a renowned researcher, consultant, and academic in the field of strategic planning. He’s done extensive research on numerous industries and for different-sized organizations. Mintzberg’s estimate: only 10-30% of intended strategy is realized. None of our estimates so far are very cheery, even Mintzberg’s 30% at the upper end of his range.
So, as we set out to take a look at improving the stategy-to-execution cycle, one ripe area to explore is that way that we develop strategy. And how it’s linked upstream to vision, and downstream to executable day-to-day actions.
A break with historical practices?
Historically, most organizational visions and strategies have been developed by a handful of people. Or, in some cases, primarily by one person.
These small groups of people are typically the people who head up the key functions at an organization, so it makes sense that they’re involved in the planning since they have the power to command resources to make the strategy happen. But are those the only people whose involvement would benefit the organization? Especially with today’s rapid pace of technological and social change, and the multiple generations now in the workforce?
Many innovative organizations today are starting to say no. They believe they can gain a competitive edge by inviting more people than usual to participate in defining, and setting a course for the future. A vision that is compelling – and bought into because many people helped create it – will be more helpful in guiding an organization than a sterile multi-sentence elaboration of top management’s thoughts on a laminated card. A strategy that a diverse set of people have co-developed will be less likely to be jettisoned in mid-course, simply because the large group already thought of potential problems and addressed them, which is hard for one person or a small group to do. The laminated vision developed by a few is less likely be to understood and embraced in the formal strategy develop process.
So now let’s talk about the strategy-to-execution connection. A large-group of people, comprised with executives and a sprinkling of non-executives, are more likely craft a strategy with pragmatic links to daily actions that would implement the strategy than a small group of just senior people. The larger, more diverse group, would likely develop language that’s better understood by all, and would also tend to be more implementable in day-to-day operations.
Just why does it seem be make sense to make a break with historical visioning and strategy processes? Because the conversations among diverse perspectives tend to generate robust plans that hold up better in the marketplace, and also create energy for implementation among the participants.
A confluence of three credible idea wellsprings
Three sources, all operating independently, support the notion that planning for the future with large groups of people can yield better results than with small groups:
James Surowiecki’s landmark book The Wisdom of Crowds talks about how large groups of people tend to do better at predictions than individuals or small groups of people. A business columnist for the New Yorker, Surowiecki argues that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." He supports this claim in a variety of settings in his 336-page book.
From the social media front, the book Groundswell by two of Forrester Research’s leading analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, presents an interesting business case. Large numbers of Best Buy employees, connected through the company’s internal social media, consistently produced product forecasts that were much better than retail experts. And engaging employees in this way has proved to be highly effective at other high-tech and retail firms.
And from the world of organization development, “group methods” have emerged over the past 15 years that provide convenient templates for success that leaders can use for a variety of purposes, one of which is contributing to the strategic planning process. A “group method” is an agenda with accompanying facilitation principles and target outcomes that makes is possible for groups of people to develop extraordinary outcomes very quickly. You’ll see more on group methods at the end of this blog.
What does involving more people get you?
Here are the major benefits of involving large groups of people -- typically from 25 to 80 -- simultaneously to develop a direction for the future, such as a strategy or a vision. You get
- A higher quality product. You have a robust solution, that’s more creative and bullet-proof, because you’re drawing upon the collective wisdom of different perspectives.
- A compressed timeframe for a plan. People in a room together with real-time, back-and-forth exchanges of information, yield a high quality product faster than conducting a series of smaller review meetings, or sequential comments attached to an e-mailed draft plan that is circulated among the executives.
- High quality, specific links from strategy to action. Engaging top, middle, and sometimes front-line levels of an organization in developing a plan help ensure its understandability and connections to day-to-day actions. People are energized to implement the plan. People tend to own what they help create, and this ownership creates energy for implementation.
For many, this concept of engaging many people in charting a course for the future is quite new. Some will embrace it immediately because it seems to make sense at a “gut level.” Others may have some doubts. If your doubts currently are overpowering your inclinations to do something like this, you might want to check out the blog, “Four major ‘but what ifs’ for group-based strategic planning.”
Other leaders may think the concept looks promising, but that it seems like too high a risk to do right now, especially if the company hasn’t done one before. If you’re in this camp, you may want to take a look at the blog post “Group Methods for Strategic Planning and Visioning, ” which provides some examples of how innovation-based companies like Microsoft, Whole Foods Market, and Hunter-Douglas are engaging groups of people using group methods (standard templates that can save your time and improve output quality) to chart a course for the future.