Henry Mintzberg famously said that strategy walks on two feet: ‘One deliberate, the other emergent’. We remind managers and boards of this whenever they need to balance short-term survival with long-term sustainability.
But really, sustainable strategies need everyone to understand and care about their success – staff, trustees, funders, partners and other stakeholders. The examples below illustrate how organisations can get their strategies walking on 20, or 200, or 2000 feet!
VSS knew that a three year strategy (‘Putting victims and witnesses first’) was just the start. It could only achieve its goals if the strategy belonged to its volunteers, staff, managers and partners. This started with surveys, interviews, roadshows and workshops to prioritise, plan and review progress. But these were not just one-off gestures: they continued every year until the cycle began again with the new strategy. In the meantime, a powerful new model of leadership and engagement developed: lateral leadership. Modelling the theories and practice in our Lasting Leadership guide, Learning and Improvement Groups (LIGs) brought together staff and managers from across the organisation to lead on each of VSS’s four strategic goals. LIGs are powerful because they are non-hierarchical: everyone is a leader, with valid ideas and contributions. They are radical, turning ‘top-down’, ‘command and control’ management on its head. Suggestions and solutions can come from any corner of the organisation, and ownership and accountability are needed everywhere. Download Lasting Leadership for more ideas and inspiration.
At first, SiMS started developing its strategic plan in a similar way. Planning days and stakeholder consultations generated great information about key principles and priorities. However, to create the strategy, SiMS then commissioned a Learning and Improvement Group. A representative team (cross-functional, cross-hierarchical) was given the data that had been gathered, a clear brief, and – most importantly – space to operate freely. Being representative of the wider organisation, the team collectively had all the experience and insight that was needed to draft a strategy ready for consultation, after which the plan could be finalised and approved. The process was so efficient and effective that the organisation used the same approach to develop an operational plan, translating high-level outcomes and priorities into on-the-ground actions and activities. From our point of view, one of the beauties of this approach is that it builds capacity within client organisations. Once lateral leadership is understood and working well, consultants and facilitators aren’t needed. Leadership emerges from within.
“Taking a lateral leadership approach has transformed how we involve and engage our colleagues across the organisation in some key pieces of work. Staff have told us how much they value the opportunity to feel really connected to each other and to the national priorities. This approach is putting principles into practice in a really meaningful way.” Frances Simpson, Chief Executive
As it approaches its 50th anniversary, Sacro embarked on Project 50, a comprehensive process of reviewing and developing strategy. Everyone in the organisation was involved, exploring six key themes one week at a time. Our role was very specific, involving external stakeholders and facilitating board and management planning. Although the vision for Project 50 is similar to one that we might usually design, the joy for us is that it’s owned and directed by the organisation itself. It sounds obvious, but it’s actually very special. The end product won’t be ‘the consultant’s strategy’ or even ‘management’s strategy’. It’ll be ‘our strategy’, belonging to the people it matters to most.
This was our first online strategy session during the pandemic. You can read the full case study here. In short, with good planning and communication it’s entirely possible for strategy development to take place remotely.