Making strategy a collaborative affair Premium

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Open up your strategy process to employees, clients, and partners? It may sound absurd, but it is what companies like 3M, Indian IT services provider HCL Technologies, and Dutch insurer AEGON have been doing. The results speak for themselves: better alignment between strategy and market opportunities, better employee engagement, and a decrease in the gap between planning and execution. But first things first: leaders need to reinvent themselves.


Followers increasingly play a key role, including in strategy development.

In 2009, Wikimedia launched a wiki to ask its millions of contributors and readers to evaluate its strategy — with strong results. More than 1,000 volunteers generated some 900 proposals for the company’s future direction, resulting in a coherent strategic plan detailing a set of beliefs, priorities, and related commitments.

The three fundamentals of successful open strategy

1. Transform leaders into “social architects”: Under pressure from cultural evolution, the balance of power is changing. Leaders must accept the shift from being “all-knowing decision makers” to “social architects” whose role is less about reflecting and deciding than it is about organizing knowledge.

2. Eliminate blocking beliefs internally: To encourage staff to speak openly, it is important to make frontline employees aware of the value of bringing information to the surface. Another key is to seek the help of middle managers, who are often the best placed to analyze ideas in the field and to capture their strategic significance.

3. Create productive dialogue: To facilitate discussion and ensure it is strategic, leaders must ask the right questions, integrate new elements into the strategy, and encourage dissenting voices to express themselves. Just be wary that the time it takes to make a decision increases when consensus is needed. In an environment where strategic decision-making is shared, there is a serious risk of losing too much time in discussion. Leaders need to exercise their authoritative power when necessary and dismiss bad ideas early on.

Business leader testimony
In April 2009, 3M decided to involve all employees in its process of identifying future markets by launching an online forum, InnovationLive. The aim was to get all employees to participate in the identification of tomorrow’s market trends. And it was a success. In two weeks, the website attracted more than 1,200 participants from 40 countries and generated more than 700 ideas, enabling the company to identify nine new markets with revenue potential in the tens of billions of dollars.

Read our dossier
Making strategy a collaborative affair

Business Digest no. 229, September 2012.
Based on, among others, “The Social Side of Strategy” by Arne Gast and Michele Zanini (McKinsey Quarterly, May 2012); “Building Employee Engagement Through Strategy Collaboration” by Melissa J. Anderson (Evolved Employer, June 2012), Find Your Next by Andrea Kates (McGraw-Hill, October 2011), and the interview with Jackie Yeaney, vice president of strategy and marketing, Red Hat, August 2012.