What if the Strategic Process was not the development of top-down direction, but rather a meeting in the middle of contributions from above and below?
Business science would have us believe that the Strategic Planning Process is a disembodied activity that executives perform apart from the remainder of the staff. For years I have felt the impact of this ritual, whereby the direction is handed down from on high and I, as a member of the organization, read about future plans scanning to see how I might fit into the vision. In some years, the strategy made the work of my team hard and in others easy, but at no time were my colleagues or I consulted.
How tragic to set the direction of the organization without accessing the wealth of knowledge and experience that front-line members across the organization possess regarding the production and provision of its goods or services. No one knows what works and what doesn’t in a particular branch of the organization like the people who work in those branches. These same folks have daily contact with end-users and have incredibly valuable insight into stakeholder trends.
A top-down strategic planning approach has an even greater lost opportunity, however. Strategic Planning is an ideal opportunity to assess and accommodate the needs and aspirations of every member of the organization to the maximum extent possible. Sound daunting? It needn’t be; it is simply another input to the planning model. We already collect and rationalize the needs and aspirations of the organization as a whole and those of the various stakeholders. Why would we not also accommodate the personal success of our staff as a directional priority if it can be aligned with the other strategic priorities?
If you dare to walk down this path, you will quickly discover that staff members at all levels are equally interested in the overall success of the organization and that their needs and aspirations are mostly for autonomy and mastery in the very areas that will create greater success for the organization. In addition, the respect shown for the staff by their inclusion will make them willing sources of strategic insights and ultimately partners in the execution of a strategic plan that they can rightfully claim some ownership over.
Data collection and assimilation on this scale is only made possible if Strategic Planning is a continuous process, which breaks the planning down into team-sized group assignments. Fortunately, for most organizations, the organizational chart already defines the teams at all levels of the organization. The remaining task is then to require each and every team (at all levels) within the organization to create a business plan that identifies the trends, needs, aspirations and business case for the team. Each organizational level will provide information and assistance to the level below in the creation of their business plans. In turn, each team will then role their plan upward – creating a two-way dialogue!
Before you give in to the temptation to dismiss this as idealistic nonsense, consider the benefits of involving the staff in the strategic process. The process creates an inherent system for communicating the organization’s strategy, (a classically weak area for most organizations). The process also increases staff engagement, commitment and accountability to the strategy because they helped create it. And possibly the greatest benefit is that individual staff members across the organization (vertically and horizontally) can answer for themselves: “Where are we going?” and “Why are we doing this?” The answers to these questions provide the information that every organizational member needs to be able to derive a sense of purpose from their work. Create a strategic direction that each member of the organization associates with their personal sense of purpose and I defy you to stop that organization from realizing their strategic objectives!!
Article by Robert Ferguson
10 February 2015