Francis Wade, Sunday Business COLUMNIST
Many Jamaican companies don't see the need for team-based strategic planning.
Each year, CEOs, MDs and owners simply create their own plans, leaving others to do the dirty work of implementing their fine ideas.
What they don't realise is that their shortcuts end up 'drawing blood', leaving them with ineffective strategies and more work than ever.
Why should a top executive engage other staff members when designing company strategies? When a company is small, why shouldn't its leader set the direction by himself or herself? What's to be gained from the time and effort it takes to involve others in the strategic-planning process?
Here are three reasons why executives, managers and staff should all be included.
1. The importance of a good fight:
It's only natural that executives who work together each day should develop different ideas about the company's future. They each have their own points of view, and as company leaders, they can only be expected to advocate the 'truth' as they see it.
According to Tony Simons and Randall Peterson's Harvard Business Review article, 'When to Let Them Duke It Out', good strategic decisions involve more than just brainstorming. They represent an opportunity for executive teams to fight over important ideas.
While an unmanaged conflict can do more harm than good, a 'good' fight allows executives to bring problems together in a productive way. Problems don't exist in isolation: they must be considered in concert in order to make sense.
The same applies to executives. What emerges from a retreat is not only conceptual agreement; it's also emotional commitment to a single course of action. There's no shortcut for that: the only way to forge true agreement is to work out areas of disagreement. This doesn't happen by executive fiat. It has to take place in a conversation that, according to Chris Argyris, balances inquiry into new ideas with advocacy of one's positions.
This fight shouldn't be discouraged or avoided. Still, many leaders attempt to take shortcuts by making pre-emptive decisions. This is a big mistake, as the lack of consensus eventually undermines the implementation of the strategy, and unresolved issues inevitably bubble to the surface.
2. The importance of quality ideas:
Beyond the simple sharing of ideas, however, is a much greater objective.
Once, I facilitated a retreat that came to a stalemate when the management team realised that the company had no future beyond five years.
The problem? The major shareholder of the firm was simply too corrupt. In the space of a few days, they engineered a remarkable commitment to something new - a buy-out of the company. It was a brand-new possibility forged in the meeting itself.
Today, many years later, I can report that their willingness to look at the problem from a different angle led to the company's survival: today, it thrives under new ownership. The former owner? Virtually bankrupt and facing widespread charges.
These kinds of management innovations can't be predicted before the retreat. They arise when a committed few are willing to engage in a process that has clear boundaries and a well-defined
result. It's more than a CEO can do alone, simply because the CEO cannot replicate the unique points of view of his executive or managerial team members.
Some argue that 'too many cooks spoil the broth', and it's true. That happens when the process is too loose. When the process is well managed, including the executive team, improves the quality of the strategic plan. This happens because the plans for even a small organisation require too much intellectual heavy lifting for a single person, no matter how smart they are or how hard they work.
3. The importance of discretionary effort:
All strategic plans share one thing: they call for a change in the status quo. Changing it isn't easy, and executives need to require people to move out of their comfort zones.
The call for action should be plain: to implement this new strategy, you are being asked to go above and beyond business as usual and tap into discretionary time, effort and energy.
Even in the smallest of companies, the CEO can't be there all the time to inspire employees to go further than ever before. Instead, most employees' time isn't spent in the presence of the top executive, or any manager.
However, it's at these moments when no one important is watching that true motivation emerges.
When staff are involved in the process of developing the strategy and have made a serious contribution, they are more motivated, improving the odds of successful implementation.
CEOs, MDs and owners should not, and need not, go it alone.
While it takes more effort to include others, the cost and extra effort involved more than pay for itself in better results.
Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting and author of 'Bill's Im-Perfect Time Management Adventureemail@example.com